Cloud File Share: 7 Solutions for Business and Enterprise Use

What is Cloud File Sharing?

Cloud file sharing (also known as Internet file sharing) is a system that allocates cloud storage space on a server to users, and allows them to perform read and write operations over the Internet.

Cloud file sharing enables end users to access their files from anywhere using networked devices. Users can usually grant access rights to other users. Cloud-based file sharing services are easy to use, and users rely on the service provider to achieve high availability (HA) and perform timely backup and recovery.

If business data is stored by third-party providers without sufficient security controls, file sharing in the cloud may lead to security and compliance risks for organizations.

In this article, you will learn:

File Sharing Services for Business

There is a wide range of cloud file sharing services used by businesses of all sizes. The below review looks at seven popular services.

Note that some of the services, which have enterprise-grade capabilities, can be categorized as an enterprise file sync and sharing (EFSS) solution. Learn more about EFSS in the following section.

Related content: File Share Service Challenges in the Cloud

Box

Box is considered to be the oldest cloud-based EFSS solution. It is a cloud-based storage service with enterprise capabilities such as:

  • Cloud storage with built-in security, compliance and governance
  • Box KeySafe, an encryption key management system for cloud content
  • Box Zones, a content geolocation technology that can support data sovereignty requirements

It has a few limitations, including no hybrid or on-premises solution, a complex pricing model, and a file size limitation of up to 15GB.

Citrix ShareFile

ShareFile by Citrix is a hybrid EFSS solution, which provides both local and cloud-based functions, as well as native connectors for other file sharing platforms, local storage platforms as well as other cloud-based services. It allows organizations to flexibly move content between the on-premises data center and different public clouds. It was selected as a leader in Forrester Wave reports for both Cloud EFSS and Hybrid EFSS.

Citrix ShareFile is sold as a standalone product and is also provided together with Citrix product suites including Citrix Workspace Suite and Citrix Workspace Cloud. The product also integrates well with other Citrix offerings:

  • Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp, providing virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and application virtualization
  • EMobile, providing Mobile Application Management (MAM)
  • NetScaler, providing mobile for and web application delivery
  • Citrix Podio, providing project management and collaboration tools

Amazon Elastic File System (EFS)

Amazon’s EFS solution provides a simple, scalable and fully-managed file system based on the network file system (NFS) protocol (primarily supported by Linux systems). You can use EFS with AWS cloud services and resources in the local data center. It is designed to scale seamlessly to petabytes, with no need to configure and manage capacity—shared folders are automatically scaled when files are added or deleted.

Amazon EFS enables large-scale concurrent access from many Amazon EC2 instances, enabling applications to provide high overall throughput, high IOPS, and low latency.

Read our detailed guides about:

Azure Files

Azure Files provides fully managed file sharing in the cloud, which can be accessed using the Windows server message block (SMB) or NFS protocols. It supports file sharing from Windows, Linux and macOS clients. Like EFS, it can be accessed both from the Azure cloud or by on-premises resources. You can also use Azure File Sync to cache Azure SMB file shares on a local Windows server, to provide fast local access to data.

Read our detailed guides about:

Dropbox

Dropbox has 500 million users and is the world's largest independent file sharing and synchronization provider. Over the years Dropbox has added enterprise-grade security and compliance features, and is comparable to the other business file services in this lineup. Dropbox is completely cloud-based, but it stores most files in its own cloud, rather than in Azure, Google Cloud, or AWS.

The biggest value of Dropbox is that it is familiar to most users and many of them already use it. Other features include:

  • Smart sync, which allows users to enjoy the same experience whether their content is stored locally or in the cloud.
  • Dropbox Paper, which is a virtual workspace for real-time collaboration, lets you assign tasks and create to-do lists.

Google Drive

Google Drive is another pure-cloud EFSS solution that integrates seamlessly with Google’s product portfolio, in particular G Suite (Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Docs), and provides the robust security and compliance features of the Google Cloud.

Google Drive provides many features useful for large organizations, including reviewing and reporting changes in document status, granular permissions for file sharing, information rights management, and advanced search features.

Microsoft OneDrive

Organizations using Office 365 can easily adopt Microsoft OneDrive for Business. It is provided both as a standalone cloud service and as a SharePoint server extension.

OneDrive for Business is based on Microsoft’s global cloud infrastructure. It supports data residency, many privacy and compliance standards, encryption keys managed by the client, and identity-based security that integrates with Microsoft Active Directory.

What is Enterprise File Sync and Sharing (EFSS)?

EFSS solutions allow organizational users to store files in the cloud or local storage and access them from desktop and mobile devices. They are similar to consumer file sharing services but have additional capabilities that make them suitable for medium-to-large businesses.

Enterprise file sharing platforms provide enhanced security for file sharing. They store files in a secured central repository, allowing it to be accessed by user devices like laptops or mobile phones that are supported by the EFSS solution.

Organizations can use file sharing and synchronization features to improve content management, collaboration, and secure file sharing between employees. EFSS solutions include features like real-time annotation, document version control, workflow management, and other functions that allow users to edit and share files in an organizational context.

Deploying Cloud File Sharing in the Enterprise: Key Considerations

Here are some of the important things to consider when deploying a file sharing service in an enterprise environment.

Cloud File Share Availability

Enterprise file storage should be accessible to many users and always available. For file services provided by public cloud providers, file sharing availability is a setting that needs to be configured by the organization. Some services require complex configuration to support failover, especially when using NAS storage.

Identify the recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO) required by your organization. Many enterprise file sharing workloads are mission critical, requiring high availability with RPO=0 and RTO<60 seconds to avoid data loss. Determine what is the cost and complexity of achieving these requirements in the file sharing service of your choice.

Related content: Cloud Availability Nightmares and How to Avoid Them in Cloud File Sharing

Performance

Shared file services can handle critical workloads that require consistent high performance and low latency. It is important to be able to scale on demand and move data between storage tiers (for example, retrieve data from archival) without interruption or performance issues. As usage increases, file services should be able to scale to higher performance levels at a reasonable cost.

Backup and Archive

To avoid data loss, you need a good way to back up cloud data. For data that must be archived for a long time or for compliance reasons, an archiving solution is needed. Creating and restoring backups should not affect performance. In addition, cloud storage backups must be readily available, consistent, and easy to restore. They should also support granular recovery—you should be able to recover individual files without having to restore the entire dataset.

Related content: Cloud File Sharing: Backup and Archiving

Security

Security is a key driver of enterprise file sharing solutions. With the rise of bring your own device (BYOD), users are free to use unsecured file sharing services on their own devices. Enterprise file sharing must find a balance between IT security requirements and employees demand for ease of use and open connectivity. 

Whether a solution is deployed behind a corporate firewall or in the cloud, business data needs to be kept safe. An enterprise file sharing solution should enable IT staff to enforce security requirements using policies, user and role access control.

Solutions must support file encryption in transit, as well as file and device auditing. Other important security capabilities include digital rights management (DRM), remote erasure, access monitoring and reporting, and data loss prevention (DLP).

Related content: Enterprise Data Security for Cloud File Sharing with Cloud Volumes ONTAP

Compliance

If your business needs to comply with data protection regulations such as GDPR, FINRA or HIPAA, evaluate the compliance features of your file sharing solution, and check what is needed in terms of configuration or customization to meet your compliance requirements.

The most important compliance features to look for are auditing, encryption, reporting in the specific format required by your compliance standards, SSL data transfer, device auditing and management.

Enterprise Cloud File Sharing with NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP

NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP, the leading enterprise-grade storage management solution, delivers secure, proven storage management services on AWS, Azure and Google Cloud. Cloud Volumes ONTAP supports up to a capacity of 368TB, and supports various use cases such as file services, databases, DevOps, or any other enterprise workload, with a strong set of features including high availability, data protection, storage efficiencies, Kubernetes integration, and more.

Learn more about how Cloud Volumes ONTAP provides file services, serving NAS, including NFS, SMB / CIFS and multiprotocol access in this customer case studies blog, or download the NetApp Guide to File Services in the Cloud.

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Learn More About Cloud File Sharing

There is a lot more to learn about cloud file sharing. To continue your research, look at the rest of our blogs on this topic:

Amazon S3 as a File System? How to Mount S3 as Drive for Cloud File Sharing

As the original AWS storage offering, object storage with Amazon S3 has been a mainstay for companies to keep their data in a highly durable and relatively inexpensive storage format. However, more experimental use of the platform is possible, such as configuring Amazon S3 to work as a file system. This can be done by mounting Amazon S3 to either Amazon EC2 in the cloud, an on-prem instance, or other compute resources with the help of third party-tools such as S3FS.

How can you do it? How does it compare to using Amazon EFS? If you set up an Amazon S3 file system, what kind of drawbacks can you expect? Find out all of this and more about mounting Amazon S3 buckets for use as file storage.

Read more: Amazon S3 as a File System? How to Mount S3 as Drive for Cloud File Sharing

Azure Storage SMB File Sharing

This post not only provides a review of Azure Files, but also places it in the larger context of Azure’s storage ecosystem. Providing a wide view of Azure storage, you’ll also find out about using object storage for unstructured data, blocks, and the storage classification systems that Azure uses.In this deep dive into Azure Files, we look at the fully managed cloud file sharing solution on Azure for SMB protocol use in detail, profiling the platform’s features for encryption, storage replication, scalability, and file synchronization, as well as some of the major use cases for the file sharing technology.

Read more: Azure Storage SMB File Sharing

File Share Service Challenges in the Cloud

There is a host of challenges that come with maintaining an enterprise-grade file share service in the cloud. Do you have a way to ensure you meet service performance SLAs? How do you protect the file data? Can you make sure your shares can meet the strict RTO and RPO points that critical business operations require? Have you considered using a managed service in the cloud instead of running your own file share solution built on cloud resources?

In this post we’ll see how Cloud Volumes ONTAP can be an integral part to making sure your company has a file service that can handle all of these challenges.

Read more: File Share Service Challenges in the Cloud

Azure NAS: Why and How to Use NAS Storage in Azure

Network Attached Storage (NAS) systems are a cornerstone of the on-prem data storage infrastructure, but how is the cloud beginning to change all of that?

This post takes a look at cloud-based NAS options. NAS in the cloud operates the same way that on-prem NAS systems do, but with the infinite scale and flexibility that the cloud offers, not to mention without having the box to maintain. Since the constructs are identical to those in use in traditional NAS devices, cloud-based NAS storage is an attractive option for those looking to take a first step into the cloud.

In this post we look at the NAS offerings that the Azure cloud offers, including NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP for Azure, a NAS option in the cloud that can deal out SMB/ CIFS as well as NFS protocol for the most demanding enterprise file service demands.

Read more: Azure NAS: Why and How to Use NAS Storage in Azure

Azure SMB: Accessing File Shares in the Cloud

The Server Message Block (SMB) protocol has been a solid part of the file sharing ecosystem since it was invented by IBM. This client-server protocol was designed to allow networked printers, file shares, and processes to communicate. As a dialect of SMB, the Common Internet File System (or CIFS) protocol allows Windows and Microsoft devices to access networks over SMB to identify other servers, manage files, and carry out any number of file-related tasks.

In this post we take a deep dive into how the SMB protocol works in the cloud, including showing how access permissions work and how Azure uses Active Directory domains and authentication for SMB workloads. In the Azure cloud, SMB and CIFS are served by the native file service, Azure Files. This fully managed file service is one of the most popular ways for enterprises to share data using their Windows-based workloads.

Read more: Azure SMB: Accessing File Shares in the Cloud

Enterprise Data Security for Cloud File Sharing with Cloud Volumes ONTAP

Cloud file sharing provides an excellent way to make data accessible to large numbers of users, but overlooking the security of your shares is asking for trouble. Configuring the proper access controls and permissions is key for enterprise data security. Without taking the proper precautions, your file share is likely to be exposed to threats such as ransomware and accidental deletion.

With file shares hosting data that could be a potential risk not only to the enterprise but to customers, finding a cloud file sharing solution with adequate controls to meet enterprise data security requirements is a must. Find out how Cloud Volumes ONTAP file shares can be secured in this post.

Read more: Enterprise Data Security for Cloud File Sharing with Cloud Volumes ONTAP

Enterprise File Sharing: How to Set Up Multi-Platform Access with Cloud Volumes ONTAP

Enterprise file sharing makes it possible for organizations to share important data to multiple users on a variety of devices, but not all those devices will be able to access the same protocols. Most large organizations use a mix of computing technology with different operating systems. What can an organization that uses both Windows and Linux machines do if a file share needs to provide access to both?

Cloud file sharing with Cloud Volumes ONTAP provides an easy solution since any volume created by the platform can be granted multi-protocol access via either SMB/ CIFS or NFS at any given time. This post shows you how to configure multiprotocol access for Cloud Volumes ONTAP using Cloud Manager.

Read more: Enterprise File Sharing: How to Set Up Multi-Platform Access with Cloud Volumes ONTAP

Secure File Sharing in the Cloud

When it comes to secure file sharing, taking the proper precautions is key. A file share that grants all users full access permissions, lacks defined user roles, automated content restrictions, and leaves shares accessible over the internet is a file share that is at risk.

Are your file sharing policies providing the proper security levels? Is anyone overseeing how data is shared? It’s time to find out how to tighten up your cloud file sharing security precautions using tools that include digital rights management services, cloud access security brokers, cloud storage management solutions such as Cloud Volumes ONTAP, and more.

Read more: Secure File Sharing in the Cloud

Cloud Availability Nightmares and How to Avoid Them in Cloud File Sharing

The cloud has introduced a new level of complexity to the file sharing use case. Maintaining a single source of truth is a new concept for users who have maintained in-house file systems for years, but it’s one that is essential to cloud file sharing services and guaranteeing their high availability.

This post takes a look at some of the options for creating file syncing technology to guarantee high availability and prevent data loss in custom-built file sharing systems, including Gluster FS and Microsoft Distributed File System Replication. What can go wrong using these solutions?

Read more: Cloud Availability Nightmares and How to Avoid Them in Cloud File Sharing

SMB Mount in Ubuntu Linux with Azure File Storage

Organizations are always on the lookout for innovative solutions for workloads with file share dependencies in Azure. Azure Files is a managed file share service in Azure that can be used to provision SMB file share in Azure. The file shared can be mapped to Windows, Linux or MacOS machines that support SMB 3.0 protocol. This blog will cover the prerequisites and steps for mapping Azure files as SMB mount in Ubuntu Linux

Read more: SMB Mount in Ubuntu Linux with Azure File Storage


See Our Additional Guides on Key Cloud Storage Topics

We have authored in-depth guides on several other cloud storage topics that can also be useful as you explore the world of cloud file sharing.

AWS Database Services Guide

Learn what AWS database support is available, what database services are available, and how you can migrate your databases to AWS. 

See top articles in our AWS database services guide:

AWS Migration Guide

Learn about the four phases of AWS migration, how to choose between migration strategies, five common migration challenges, and how to migrate with Cloud Volumes ONTAP.

See top articles in our AWS migration guide:

AWS Snapshots Guide

Discover types of storage snapshots, learn what AWS snapshots are, and understand how to use AWS snapshots. 

See top articles in our AWS snapshots guide:

Azure Cost Management Guide

Understand what the Azure Cost Management service is, learn how to use the service, and discover some additional Azure cost management tools you can use.

See top articles in our Azure cost management guide:

Azure Database Services Guide

Learn what Azure database workloads are supported, how databases work in Azure, and what services are available.

See top articles in our Azure database guide:

Azure High Availability Guide

Learn what high availability is and how to optimize Azure high availability.

See top articles in our Azure high availability guide:

Google Cloud Database Services Guide

Learn what are your options for deploying databases in the cloud, what Google Cloud database services are available, and how to choose the right service for you.

See top articles in our Google Cloud database guide:

Google Cloud Storage Guide

This guide explains what Google Cloud Storage options exist and their common uses.

See top articles in our Google Cloud storage guide:

Multicloud Storage

This guide explains what multicloud storage is, how it works, what it’s used for, the core requirements for this storage, and how Cloud Volumes ONTAP supports it. 

See top articles in our multicloud storage guide:

Learn more in our guide about cloud storage.

Yifat Perry, Product Marketing Lead

Product Marketing Lead