Can OneDrive and SharePoint replace my file server? Probably, with Files On-Demand.Alex Fields
The real answer to this question is: it depends. But the shorter version is: probably. You’ll just want to enable Files On-Demand first.*
OneDrive has been great for personal files for a long time–I usually recommend clients start by replacing redirected “Documents” folders with OneDrive for Business. The problem with SharePoint, however, is that it is not a 1-for-1 experience shift compared with the traditional on-premises file server, when it comes to “company-wide” shares. Most often, you would have been accessing your SharePoint files via web browser, and not everyone liked that…. I believe the official results were: 99 percent reported absolutely hating it, the remaining 1 percent said it was “fine” and that they “could probably learn to live with it.”
Just give me a full view from File explorer, similar to my old mapped drives… why is Microsoft such a Charlie Foxtrot?!!
That’s all we wanted. File explorer has long been the “home” of our files.
We almost got it a couple of years ago. Office 365 has been improving their offerings little by little. At some point in the development process, you could even sync SharePoint libraries to your workstation using the OneDrive app, but it was annoying, and often didn’t work well. You could choose individual files & folders to sync, leaving others in the cloud (but then you couldn’t see them, without going to the web). So it still wasn’t great, unless you were willing to sync everything (a terrible idea).
But now, with the new “Files On-Demand” feature, everything seems to be working seamlessly: you can see all the files and folders in the library, including those which are not synced to the local computer. Those which are still in the cloud will display a blue cloud icon, whereas synced files will be indicated with a green icon. See screenshot below:
Furthermore, you can toggle which ones are synced or not, by right-clicking and choosing either Always keep on this device (sync) or Free up space (cloud).
Enabling Files On-Demand
To enable this selective syncing on your OneDrive client, right-click the OneDrive icon in the system tray (by the clock). Choose Settings.
From the Settings tab, under Files On-Demand, choose the check mark box for Save space and download files as you use them. Click OK.
Then, add your SharePoint libraries by visiting them in a web browser, and clicking on Sync. Just follow prompts to allow OneDrive to open and do it’s magic.
The result is, your Libraries will sync under your Organization’s name in File Explorer, similar to how your personal files sync using the OneDrive app.
Finally! We have a workable solution for replacing the traditional file server experience, with something intuitive that plugs into the same old familiar File explorer. I have been asking for this feature since 2014. Happy to report that my testing over the past couple of months has been nothing but positive. Oh, and if you are looking for a way to accomplish this with Group Policy, here it is.
*Note: you still shouldn’t be syncing Access database files (or any database files for that matter), or PST / archive files from Outlook. Still, the vast majority of day-to-day documents are going to be okay, and with 1 TB of storage per user (or per site collection in SharePoint), many small businesses will find this plenty adequate for their needs. There are some other restrictions, but nothing that holds most organizations back too much (character limits, buying more storage, etc.)