Microsoft Azure File Storage Review

A cloud file storage solution that plays well with familiar products but is difficult to configure and build-out

What is our primary use case?

My company is a managed services firm. We do have a firewall internally, but we have about 70 banks and probably about 30 to 40 clients in other verticals that we are servicing. So it is not just us or our clients that we use products for. I am constantly looking at a lot of different client bases as far as different industries and needs, and a lot of different solutions and possibilities.  

A lot of what we use Azure File Storage for at our company is BLOB storage because the format is flexible in terms of pulling stuff down. Usually what we are doing is storing and retrieving IT management information. We have to be able to store and pull specific files from storage. BLOB storage is a good solution for that type of management.  

Most of our clients are using a private cloud because it is a requirement for them. As financial institutions, that is kind of where they have to go to properly secure critical data. We go public because there is no requirement on our end to do private cloud. For our financial institution clients, there are requirements from oversight boards and governing institutions that they need to have critical information stored privately because they are handling people's money.  

What is most valuable?

The main thing that is valuable about the solution is just the reason you do cloud: because it is flexible. For example, right now we are working on a project for a client and they are entirely involved with the Azure suite. They are using Intune for MDM (Mobile Device Management) and Azure AD for their authentication. That is all nice and well and good, but then they need a server. So what we are going to do is to push data into Azure from the data center and part of it to the house server. The thing with that is it is a flexible solution and it is easy to ramp up or down depending on their compute needs.  

What needs improvement?

I think the place where the product really needs the most attention is in the Intune and the MDM products. They are building it out pretty quickly in updates, yet at the same time that is probably the place where I have seen the most reason to simplifying for ease-of-use. Right now you kind of have to spend some time to wrap your head around the product instead of it being something that is easier to use and easier to onboard into production. In a way, that is just part of the industry standard right now. Any MDM product you choose is going to be a little difficult that way, and it is going to require some build-out that is maybe more than you had expected or cared to dive into.  

If they improved Intune to where it was more deployable out-of-the-box, that would be great. We just have to wait and see if they can do it.  

For how long have I used the solution?

We have been using the Azure File Storage solution for a few years now at the company I am with. I started utilizing that solution for storage initially with clients about three or four years ago. I actually brought the company I am working for now onto the Azure platform before I started working at the company and that led them to using the Azure File Storage solution.  

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The stability of the product is fine. It is stable. It is just something you have to pay attention to in the management of how you want it to perform. In that way, it is just like everything else.  

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

It is scalable. But it is really the same deal for just about any product of this type. Everything is stable and everything is scalable to the extent of time that you are willing to invest in it to make it that way. Some products are not worth the time.  

The number of users and how they are using the product depends on the client. In our organization, everyone has to use the product, otherwise, they can not work. So that is 100% of them because we require it. It will not be the same way in every organization.  

How are customer service and technical support?

I have had some experience with the technical support for Azure. Your experience with the support team will depend on the situation. Microsoft splits out their support infrastructure based on two different areas of the planet. So if you are talking about dealing with the Philippines call center, it is much more in line with expectations going on in the US in terms of speed and efficiency and meeting the needs of the client. Whereas if you are talking about their outsourced support infrastructure in India, there are some procedures you have to deal with that makes the support process a little harder if you are not aware of them. Neither of the support teams are bad, they are just different. Getting the support you want is just a matter of being aware of who and what you are dealing with in both situations.  

The other thing I would say is that we are a provider. We sell the product and we are a Microsoft silver partner. Because of that, we get to contact a different support infrastructure than somebody who does not have that type of relationship with Microsoft. I have experience with it from both sides. There was a time when I was running a nonprofit and I had to call into support and I did not have a provider who had silver partner status. It was a lot harder to get support then because I would have to call in and I just got the tier-one guys all the time. Now, as a silver partner, I can call in and get the right person on the phone the first time without waiting or trying to get past the tier-one guys. So, support is fine depending on your relationship with the company and the context of the issue which may include your location or the size of the organization.  

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup was complex. There is a lot to do to build it out. There are a lot of nuances to how the MDM works and that makes Intune a little bit harder to work with. Unless you have done it a few times and paved the pain points of some of the things that you have to do in configuring it, it is going to be hard.  

At the same time, it is hard to say how long a deployment takes. That is because you can roll out Intune in a matter of a few minutes, but building it out to function the way you want it to is the part that impacts the speed in which you implement it.  

What about the implementation team?

We did not use an integrator or reseller or consultant for the deployment because that is what we do. We are those things and we deal with the problems that you face in deployments every day.  

What other advice do I have?

We try to push as many clients as we can toward Azure because most of our clients are Office 365 clients as it stands already, so they already have Azure integrated. They have the authentication and because of that, it allows us to push Azure a little easier because it is already native to the products they are using and familiar to their users. 

On a scale from one to ten where one is the worst and ten is the best, I would rate this solution as a six. Currently, you just have to spend too much time wrapping your head around what the product does and how it does it. Then the build-out takes a lot of effort. If it took less effort in that way — especially from my perspective as a reseller and consultant where implementation is so important — then I could rate it higher. The economy of scale plays in, but it is just hard to invest into that build-out on the front end.  

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?

Public Cloud
**Disclosure: My company has a business relationship with this vendor other than being a customer: partner
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