Should You Replace Your File Server with SharePoint?

By John Bath

From time to time, we get asked by our Office 365 customers if SharePoint Online would make a good replacement for their file server. It’s a good question to ask, as the majority of our customers are not actively utilizing the file storage service. In many cases, SharePoint can make a fine alternative to a file server, but really only under specific circumstances.

Like any platform, both file servers and SharePoint have their own sets of strengths and weaknesses for storage. In this post, I’ll go through when either option is the best choice.

SharePoint Strengths


1. Collaboration & Document Management

At its core, SharePoint is a centralized collaboration hub and is designed to be used as such. For that reason, many organizations that frequently work on group projects may find SharePoint to be an attractive option. Documents stored within SharePoint “Libraries” can be edited simultaneously online or in a desktop client. Libraries can be thought of as network drives, which can be mapped with a bit of configuration knowhow.

The service boasts robust versioning features, which can allow users to view and restore previous versions of documents stored in a site. So if something was deleted from a document during the coediting process, that content can be recalled and restored.

2. Integration

SharePoint Online is fully integrated with the larger Office 365 suite, offering more utility in document management. Integration with Skype, for example, allows users to pull a presentation right from SharePoint and present to an audience. Meanwhile, data can be pulled from SharePoint into Power BI to draw meaningful insights.

3. Automation

Unlike a file server, SharePoint can be customized with workflows to streamline business processes. The approval process for documents, for example, can be automated to alert the proper recipients when changes are made. This serves to eliminate the process of approving changes manually and keep users productive.

4. Backups

Microsoft periodically stores snapshots of SharePoint tenants, which can be restored as needed. A new backup is stored every 12 days, which is valid for 14 days. At most, administrators will have two versions to choose from if a restore is needed.

If all of the above sounds good for your organization, then great! SharePoint may do well as your File Server alternative. There are, however, a set of small requirements that can pose a major obstacle in switching over.

SharePoint Limitations


1. Storage Capacity

Even as a cloud service, SharePoint does have some storage limitations. Each site collection in SharePoint has a base storage capacity of 1TB1, with each individual document library limited to 5,000 files. The best way around this is creating additional site collections and document libraries as needed. While this doesn’t limit the storage capacity of the tenant, it can become confusing for users and inhibit adoption, as well as diminish the reliability of the syncing tool.

2. File Sizes

SharePoint supports file sizes up to 2GB, though file sizes under 300MB are preferable for syncing. So if your organization typically works with very large files, such as a media production company, a file server is likely better for hosting.

3. File Names

Naming convention also plays a role in whether or not a file can be hosted. File names must be under 260 characters including the url path denoting its location in the site (…). File names containing most non-alphanumeric characters are not supported.

In most cases this just means that your file names may need to be cleaned up before being transferred into the cloud. Depending on the number of files you have, this can become a long process.

4. File Types

SharePoint works best when Office documents are stored within it (Word, PowerPoint, etc.), simply because those file types can be edited within the web portal. Most file types can be accessed, albeit as a view only file (PDF, JPEG, MP3). Other media, such as Photoshop or CAD files, cannot be viewed from the web portal, but can be stored and synced with the cloud.

Database files, on the other hand, are not recommended to be hosted by the service, as doing so would be the same as hosting a database within a database.

1. On top of 1TB, the SharePoint Online tenant gains 500MB of storage for every user subscription.

In Conclusion


Overall, SharePoint is a far better tool for collaboration and document management than file storage. That is not to say it is completely inadvisable, certain organizations are just better prepared for success. Those kinds of businesses will typically have a low number of users and files that are frequently accessed. Startups, for example, may find SharePoint Online to be a good substitute until a larger archive of files is developed.

Organizations will want to stick with their file servers, however, when they consistently work with large files or have a large archive of inactive files. When accessing databases, such as Quickbooks, file servers are a better option since accessing from SharePoint would be the same as opening a database from a database.

What will work the best regardless of any company type or size, of course, is going to be a combination of the two. By using SharePoint purely as a production site for projects and documents, users get all the productivity benefits without any storage restrictions. So for those with Office 365 already, it’s certainly worth considering!


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  1. love spell August 21, 2017 at 8:48 pm - Reply

    Hi,I read your blog named “Should You Replace Your File Server with SharePoint? :: Metro CSG – New York & New Jersey” regularly.Your humoristic style is awesome, keep it up!

  2. George Renee March 11, 2018 at 10:54 pm - Reply

    Thanks for these articles. Also read the one on Office 365. Very informative and useful for MS shops like ours. I prefer to use GS Rich Copy 360 for all my migration needs. As it is robust and faster. It can transfer over TCP port and also supports NTFS file permissions. have been using it for 3+ years not and quite happy with the results so far 🙂

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