Windows File Server Alternative

By Zach DeMeyer Posted May 4, 2019

As Microsoft® sunsets legacy file server solutions like Windows® Server 2008, their users are seeking out a Windows File Server alternative. The task itself is somewhat daunting. Multiple options exist on the market, including on-prem and cloud storage solutions, and finding the best alternative to serve your specific environment can be difficult. Although the cloud certainly seems to be the future of storage, some still view the option with doubt.

Vormetric found that while 85% of enterprises store their sensitive data in the cloud, 70% of those enterprises are very concerned about its security. Their concern is completely understandable, but what you might not know is that security can come from the cloud, albeit not where you might expect. But before we talk about that, let’s explore some Windows File Server alternatives and see what IT admins are working with.

On-Prem Windows File Server Alternatives

If your organization is particularly wary of cloud security, then an on-prem Windows File Server alternative might be the choice for you. Here are some of the top options.

Samba File Servers

The Samba (SMB) protocol writes data to on-prem Linux®-based file servers. It was originally designed in 1991 to link Microsoft Windows machines to Linux servers and enable them to communicate—a long-desired function in the early days of IT.

Samba servers are still much in use today, though they come with some challenges. A common difficulty met by admins is implementing and maintaining Samba instances, which often requires a dedicated server(s) and numerous integrations. Like many on-prem Linux server setups, Samba servers require a good bit of technical knowhow to use properly.

NAS Appliances

If the work involved with setting up a Samba server seems intimidating, then a NAS appliance might be the choice for your org. NAS appliances, such as Synology®, QNAP®, or FreeNAS™, are pre-configured Samba instances. By using NAS appliances, the work required for Samba servers is eliminated, but the functionality can still be achieved by IT organizations.

Of course, both of these options require an identity provider (IdP), like Microsoft Active Directory® among other options, in order to authenticate the identities that are writing and accessing data to the file server. There are some issues with using Active Directory (AD), but that’s a conversation for another blog. Let’s next look at some Windows File Server alternatives from the cloud.

Cloud Windows File Server Alternatives

Cloud File Servers

With the rise of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications like Salesforce®, it was only natural that cloud-hosted file servers would arise, too. Some popular choices include Box™ and Dropbox™. These also require user authentication, usually in the form of a username and password.

Woefully, we live in an age rife with security breaches.Tactics like phishing allow hackers to swipe unaware end users’ credentials, threatening these cloud file servers with compromise. One method of combating this weakness has been the use of add-ons like web application single sign-on (SSO) tools to serve as a link between on-prem identity providers and cloud apps, as well as multi-factor authentication (MFA), VPNs, or privileged access management tools.

Add-on solutions, SSO tools or otherwise, often have a tendency to rack up costs of IT organizations. And, of course, they require an IdP to properly operate. With that in mind, let’s check out some other storage options.

Cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)

Many of today’s organizations have shifted their IT infrastructure to cloud services such as Amazon® Web Services® (AWS®), Microsoft Azure®, or the Google Cloud Platform™ (GCP™). Each of these vendors feature a cloud file service as well: S3 Glacier, OneDrive, and G Drive, respectively. Additionally, they all have some form of user management.

What none of these IaaS solutions offer is a way to manage the various other facets of identity management, such as systems, networks, and more. Some of them feature a way to integrate with AD in order to accomplish these goals, but it ultimately raises a bigger question.

Cloud Identity and Access Management

You may have been sensing a theme among these various Windows File Server alternatives. At the core of file storage is identity and access management (IAM). With proper IAM, IT organizations can rest assured that their data, no matter where it is stored, is secure.

Traditional IAM has been carried out by, you guessed it, AD. Of course, today’s IT environments have rendered AD somewhat obsolete, driving the need for add-ons like SSO and identity federation to create a full IAM picture. In the long run, these add-ons introduce additional sources of compromise, which can potentially corrupt the posture of security conscious orgs.

There is, however, a next generation IAM solution that authenticates user access to all of the above Windows File Server alternative options. What’s more, this IAM solution is a cloud directory service that authorizes user identities and authenticates their access to systems (Mac®, Windows, Linux), applications (on-prem and cloud), networks, and more.

Try Next-Gen IAM Free

JumpCloud® Directory-as-a-Service® is a next-generation cloud directory service for the modern era. IT admins who need to authenticate access to their Windows File Server alternative can do so with Directory-as-a-Service for free for under ten users. After ten users, organizations can exercise several pricing options, depending on their needs.

Simply sign up for JumpCloud to start using the directory service free today. Contact us if you would like to learn more.

Zach DeMeyer

Zach is a writer and researcher for JumpCloud with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines. He loves being on the cutting edge of new technology, and when he's not working, he enjoys all things outdoors, making music, and soccer.

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