Sharepoint online vs file server

SharePoint Online is a powerful alternative to on-premises servers and provides a host of features that are quickly making these local servers extinct. While some might question if SharePoint Online can replace file servers completely, with the proper configuration and change management, the move to the cloud can become a pleasant process for all. A migration to a cloud service like SharePoint Online will definitely require some adjustment for users and changing the ways they are accustomed to performing certain tasks. There are plenty of offices and companies that still use a file server to store their files but with SharePoint Online becoming easily accessible through Microsoft’s Office 365 platform, more businesses are looking at ways to incorporate it as a document storage solution. If you are in a similar position, continue reading as I outline the points of difference between using SharePoint Online vs file server, and which document storage solution you should use.

What is a file server?

As the name implies, a file server is a server that provides access to files. It acts as a central file storage location that can be accessed by your users on your network. Typically the hosting of the file server is on-premise at the business location, but can also be hosted offsite at a data centre for extra security.

Access to documents can be controlled by the use of directory services installed onto the file server such as Microsoft’s Active Directory. The use of directory services provides simple access data controls to users in the business, protecting data from being accessed by the wrong people in the organisation. When you connect to a file server on a local network, it usually appears as a hard disk on your computer. You can double-click the hard disk icon to view the contents and browse through directories on the server, just like local folders. If you want to copy a file from the server to your computer, simply drag the file to your desktop or another folder on your local disk.

SharePoint Online vs file server

If your business has to store large files, it is best to store them on your own file server rather than on a cloud-based platform.  This is because a file server works better with larger files, in particular when they are gigs in size, as it is faster to download files off a local network rather than over the internet. Overall, a file server is best for businesses that require a fairly simple process system, that is easy for employees to navigate or find files quickly, creating backups with easily navigating the useful data recovery and file retrieval features.

What is SharePoint Online?

Microsoft SharePoint Online is a cloud-based collaboration and document management platform that integrates with Microsoft Office 365’s productivity stack. SharePoint’s core functions are to store documents in a more effective format than a regular folder system and bring an organisation together so that everyone receives critical information that’s relevant to them. Sharepoint online allows you to Store files and put version control restrictions in place, gives you better searching functionality, allows you to share files externally and securely, and allows your data to be more accessible when you are not in the office.

SharePoint Online vs file server

SharePoint Online should be used as a cloud file server by businesses who are ready to take their document and information access and sharing to the next level.

  • Access files via a secure web interface
  • Easily manage files, document life cycles and governance policies via a document management system
  • Seamlessly collaborate, share and manage content, knowledge, files and applications

Key differences between using SharePoint Online vs file server




  • Anywhere access
  • Share files externally and securely
  • Easily store files and put version control restrictions in place
  • Powerful and easy search options
  • Easy online organisation, collaboration and sharing
  • Check-in / check-out
  • You can’t just delete a file
  • Not prone to crypto locker
  • data-loss prevention and backup retrieval
  • Retrieve a backup with a click
  • Automate document management and business processes
  • No infrastructure costs

  • You still need backups for Office 365 (email and SharePoint Online) and Additional security on Office 365.
  • Most companies don’t implement it.
  • Additional cost to setup properly.
  • Requires training and discipline from employees to use the way it was intended

File Server


  • Simplicity with Shared folders
  • Central access within your network
  • Easy to setup
  • Basic IT expertise needed for internal maintenance
  • User control


  • Poor searching tools.
  • You don’t know a document has changed or has been deleted until you look for it.
  • Sharing with the outside world, users end up using DropBox or OneDrive
  • Remote access to the corporate network is usually required.

Which document storage solution should you use?

When you look at the advantages and disadvantages above, it might seem SharePoint Online may look like the best option, but it does require careful planning, change management and discipline from employees to have it work the way you want it to work in your business. On the other hand, file servers make it easy to configure, store and access files and require minimal effort in training staff to use it.  Another option is for businesses to use SharePoint Online and file servers together.  This is because SharePoint Online is good for structuring and collaborating the way data and information are shared and the file server is great for instant access to files, in particular, more resource-intensive ones such as video and design files.  Ultimately, the decision as to which storage solution, SharePoint Online vs file server, will come down to the individual requirements of your business.

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