Certifications / Microsoft

How Azure File Sync Works

by Jon Welling
How Azure File Sync Works picture: A
Published on June 30, 2022

Rsync does exactly what you need it to do, but it's not like Rsync is a joy to use. Let's face it, we only use Rsync because we need to and it's dependable — because creating your own syncing data shares can be a killjoy. Once we set those data shares up, we don't want to touch it again.

It never works out that way, though. Managing file sync operations is a lot more complex than it seems. And that is why in a hybrid IT environment, we use Azure File Sync. Today we are going to discuss what Azure File Sync is. 

One last thing, If you are the junior IT person and someone wants you to set up syncing between data shares, document everything! It will break. Full stop. And that senior IT dude that asked you to create those syncs – they assigned that ticket to you for a reason. That is unless you use a service like Azure File Sync. 

An Overview of How to Configure Azure File Sync

In this video, CBT Nuggets trainer Knox Hutchinson explains what Azure File Sync is, why it is useful, and provides an overview of how to configure Azure File Sync.

How Azure File Sync Works

If you are familiar with Rsync, you should be comfortable with how Azure File Sync works. Azure File Sync is basically a managed Rsync service. That service also provides you with data storage space, too. 

Where Azure File Sync shines is if your business is already using Microsoft products and is part of, or planning to deploy, a hybrid IT infrastructure. In this case, your organization most likely has the tooling in place to create Azure File Sync shares in minutes. 

If your org doesn't use Azure yet, it's not a complex service to set up. In fact, it will take more time to create your Azure account and billing services than it does to create the sync service itself. 

First, you need to create an Azure file store. You don't want to use blob storage or other storage types in Azure in this case. Likewise, make sure .Net Framework 4.7+ is installed on each computer/server that Azure File Sync will be syncing with. Next, install the agent on each machine. Finally, finish configuring the sync service within the Azure File Sync dashboard. 

Starting Azure File Sync services is that easy. Now that we know what Azure File Sync is and how easy it is to set up, let's discuss why you should use Azure File Sync. 

Why You Should Use Azure File Sync

You might have an idea of why you should use Azure File Sync. For IT folk, though, sometimes it's easier to show why you need a service than tell it. So, let's show you why you need Azure File Sync. 

How can Azure File Sync help IT support operations?

There was a time when I had to manage support operations for multiple locations across the United States. The problem is that three of those locations had no on-site IT staff. That made deploying applications a nightmare. 

You see, before I came along, we needed to transfer file installers from a central data store at the headquarters to the user's computer 500 miles away. It wasn’t that bad if I installed something small, like 7Zip. But we had engineers at all of these locations. Engineers use large, monolithic applications. On top of that, we had special scripts to install and configure these applications. Those scripts also had additional data that they would install on the user's computer. 

Can you see why this was a pain? Transferring gigabytes of information through a slow wide area network took time. 

So, one day I had the 'brilliant’ idea of creating synced repositories between these locations. This didn't seem like it would be challenging to deploy. A special server was created for each site with enough storage space to hold any current applications and data and extra space for good measure. After each server was built, they were immediately sent to each location for installation. 

That's not the end of the story, however. After some time, Rsync stopped working correctly. Files got out of sync. Other issues kept popping up. Managing these connected repositories became as much of a hassle as simply transferring large installers between computers. 

Is Azure File Sync a backup tool?

Let's say that you manage the IT services for a nationwide organization. As one of the head IT people, you are located at the headquarters office. You still need to help manage locations in other states, however. 

It's common for national organizations to have accountants located at each location. That makes handling things like local sales, taxes, etc… easier for the businesses. Local people will have better access to local financial resources than employees from out of state. 

If you have ever managed IT services for accountants, you already understand how difficult this situation is. Accountants need access to each other's data. That's the only way they can perform their jobs properly. Not only that, but they need that data to be accurate, up-to-date, and immediately available. These people don't have the luxury of waiting 24 hours for file shares to replicate and update. When something breaks, you hear from them immediately. 

Azure File Sync catches changes made to files and syncs them to a central repository much faster. That file is then synced out to various branch offices almost right away. 

In this case, Azure File Sync is not a backup. Data still needs to be processed through a proper backup strategy. Azure File Sync is acting like a hot data storage bucket. Otherwise, the primary data share in Azure File Sync serves as a primary repository. 

However, let's say that the Azure File Sync store acts as a cold repository. In this case, users access their data locally. Changed data is still synced to Azure File Sync, but users keep accessing their local copy. Someone only grabs the synced copy if they need a new version or need to restore it. 

Technically, this is still not considered a backup. All backups should follow the 3-2-1 backup rule as a rule of thumb. With that said, Azure File Sync can be used as a reliable pseudo backup cache, however. The biggest drawback of making Azure File Sync not a backup service is that changes to data are over-written. Files are not immutable, and there is no file versioning. Once a file is synced, it is synced – at least not without further configurations. 

How to Learn More About Azure File Synching

My goodness! Have you ever wanted to read an article about file syncing as much as you wanted to read this one? No? Excellent! In that case, we have the perfect opportunity for you. You see, Azure File Syncing is more than replicating files between different data shares. It's about building out a hybrid IT infrastructure. That's a skill that all IT folk need to learn today. 

So, when you are ready to learn how to manage a hybrid infrastructure, we have courses prepared for you. CBT Nuggets has structured certification and skill courses designed to teach you how to manage Windows Servers in a hybrid environment online. It's easy to get started, too. So go ahead and start leveling up your IT skillset right now,


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