Azure Files: The Basics and a Quick Deployment Guide

[Azure, Azure NetApp Files, Advanced, 10 minute read, Azure Files]

What Is Azure Files?

Azure Files is an Azure File Storage service you can use to create a file share in the cloud. It is based on the Server Message Block (SMB) protocol and enables you to access files remotely or on-premises via API through encrypted communications. Azure Files is designed for sharing files, development or debugging tools, and applications that rely on native file systems.

With Azure Files, you can create and manage your file shares using the built-in UI, through the Azure CLI or PowerShell. Each file share is limited to 5TB but you can operate multiple shares.

Related content: read our guide to smb file sharing

In this article, you will learn about:

Azure Files Use Cases

Azure Files is a flexible file service that allows for many use cases. It is commonly used for:

  • File servers—you can use Azure Files to replace network attached storage (NAS) or on-premises file systems. By adding on Azure File Sync, you can replicate data to your on-premises locations for distributed caching and increased performance.
  • Lift and shift migration— Azure Files enables you to migrate applications and data “as-is” by supporting current protocols. You can move either data, applications, or both.
  • Application shares—you can configure Azure Files as a centralized file share for application data and configuration files. However, this method only supports SMB access.
  • Monitoring and analytics—Azure Files enables you to centralize metrics and log files for ingestion by monitoring and analytics tools. This provides redundancy for monitoring and troubleshooting data.
  • Development and testing—you can use Azure Files to create a centralized repository for code or utilities used during testing and development. Centralization supports collaboration and ensures standardization.

Azure Files Pricing

When developing your Azure Files budget, you should consider the role that the following factors play in pricing:

  • How much data you’re storing
  • How long you’re storing data for
  • How frequently you’re reading or writing data
  • What level of data redundancy you’re using
  • Which storage tier you’re using

The two largest factors on your cost are your redundancy and your storage tier. Redundancy is available in three variations—locally redundant storage (LRS), zone redundant storage (ZRS), and globally redundant storage (GRS). As the distribution of your redundant copies increases, so do your costs.

Additionally, if you use LRS, you also have the option of choosing the premium storage tier. This tier provides higher performance and uses provisioned resources rather than on-demand. Unlike the normal tier, all data operations are included in the cost of provisioning.

The table below shows pricing for the US West 2 region to give you an idea of costs. To see details for more regions and configurations, visit the official pricing page.

Redundancy Option Normal Tier (per GB/month)* Premium Tier (per GB/month)
LRS $0.06

$0.24 for regular storage

$0.20 for snapshots
ZRS $0.075 N/A
GRS $0.10 N/A

* This cost is in addition to the cost of operations, which start at:

  • $0.0188 for 10,000 put or create ops
  • $0.015 for list ops
  • $0.0015 for all other ops (except delete, which is free)
  • $0.0 for geo-replication data transfers

Azure File Storage Pros and Cons

The primary benefit of Azure Files is its familiarity. Most users are already comfortable working with traditional file systems and can easily transition to Azure Files.

Below are some additional pros of using Azure Files:

  • Fully managed service—management and maintenance tasks are handled for you, eliminating overhead.
  • Shared access—since it is based on SMB it is broadly compatible with most on-premises applications and services. This means you can easily migrate applications and share across distributed teams.
  • Redundancy—data stored in Azure Files is 99.999999999% durable and is automatically replicated to prevent loss due to resource failure.
  • Easy automation—Azure Files is compatible with most common automation tools and can be managed through a variety of interfaces, including PowerShell, Azure CLI, Azure Storage Explorer, and Azure Portal.
  • Easy APIs—includes a built-in REST API and client libraries for simplified interfacing and integration with other services.

While Azure Files can provide numerous benefits, it also has limitations that you should be aware of. These limitations are most relevant for larger enterprises or those managing large volumes of data.

Below are some important limitations of Azure Files:

  • Security and access—to access files you must share your account key with users. This means users have access to your entire storage account. Additionally, files can be accessed externally via a UNC path and your key. You cannot block this access.
  • Backup—Azure Files does not include a built-in mechanism for snapshots or automatic backups. To ensure that data is recoverable in case of accidental deletion or user error, you need to perform backups manually.
  • Performance—throughput is limited to 60MB/s on the standard tier. The premium tier offers higher limits but may cost significantly more.
  • Size limitations—you can only store up to 5TB per standard storage account and up to 100TB spread across 20 accounts. The premium tier can scale up to 100TB per account but may cost significantly more.
  • File system limitations—individual files are limited to 1TB. You can store up to 200k system objects per account and file names can be up to 255 characters. These limitations primarily present issues for legacy migrations.

Azure Files: Quick Deployment Guide

Deploying data to your Azure Files file share is relatively easy, with three main methods supported by the service.

Azure File Sync

Azure File Sync is a service that you can use to centralize the maintenance of file shares while maintaining the compatibility, performance, and flexibility of on-premises servers. You can use this service to cache file share files on your Windows Server resource and sync changes back to Azure Files. This means you retain local access to files, and can easily upload new files as needed.

Robocopy

Robocopy is a tool that comes by default with Windows Server and Windows OS. You can use this tool to transfer file data to Azure Files by mounting your file share and setting it as the copy destination in Robocopy.

Using Robocopy works as follows:

  1. Mount your file share on a local PC or the server that your data is stored on. The latter is preferable for faster copy time. The command to mount should look something like the following:
net use <destinationDrive>: \\<storageAccount>.file.core.windows.net\<shareName> <storageKey> /user:Azure\<storageAccount>
  1. You can then use Robocopy to transfer your files with a command similar to:
robocopy <localPath> <fileSharePath> /E /Z /MT:32

AzCopy

AzCopy is a tool designed for multiple Azure storage services that you can also use with Azure Files. To use this utility you must first download it from Microsoft or import it with a package manager.

To use AzCopy:

When using Windows, you can use a command like the following in your preferred CLI:

azcopy /Source:<localPath> /Dest:https://<storageAccount>.file.core.windows.net/<shareName>/ /DestKey:<storageKey> /S

When using Linux, the command should look something like this:

azcopy --source <localPath> --destination https://<storageAccount>.file.core.windows.net/<shareName>/ --dest-key <storageKey> --recursive

Optimized Azure File Storage with Azure NetApp Files

Azure NetApp Files is another file storage alternative from Microsoft Azure built on NetApp technology, giving you enterprise file share capabilities that can support even your core business applications.

Get enterprise-grade data management and storage to Azure so you can manage your workloads and applications with ease, and move all of your file-based applications to the cloud.

Azure NetApp Files solves availability and performance challenges for enterprises that want to move mission-critical applications to the cloud, including workloads like HPC, SAP, Linux, Oracle and SQL Server workloads, Windows Virtual Desktop, and more.

Want to get started? See Azure NetApp Files for yourself with a free demo.

Learn More About Azure Files

Read more in our series of guides about Azure Files and file storage on the Azure cloud.

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