Organizations are now taking cloud storage seriously--to the point that many businesses now have significant amounts of data both on premises and in the cloud. One of the problems with storing file data in the cloud, however, is that the data typically cannot be accessed in the same way that users might be used to when accessing on-premise data. Windows, for example, cannot always natively map a network drive to cloud-based object storage. Fortunately, there are a number of third-party utilities that can help with mapping storage.
In some cases, mapping a network drive to cloud storage simply is not going to be an option without the use of a cloud storage client. In other cases, it may be possible to map a drive letter to cloud storage using nothing but native operating system capabilities.
Microsoft Azure for example, allows an administrator to create an SMB file share inside of an Azure storage account. Once created, Azure provides a PowerShell script that administrators can use to connect to the share from a Windows machine. The only catch is that doing so requires you to open Port 445 (which may be blocked by some ISPs). Azure also provides instructions for connecting to the share from Linux, with the caveat that you won’t be able to map a network drive from an on premises Linux server to Azure storage. The technique only works on Linux VMs that are running within the Azure cloud. Furthermore, these VMs must be in the same region as the Azure storage account.
Keep in mind that I am only using Microsoft Azure as a cloud storage example. Similar techniques exist for mapping network drives to some of the other cloud platforms, although the capability is by no means universal.
Indeed, even though object storage is normally accessed through REST API calls over HTTP or HTTPS, there are other ways of mapping a drive letter to an object storage account. Doing so allows object storage to be used as seamlessly as other types of networked storage.
Some of these tools are free and open source, while others are paid applications. Some of the available tools include:
Although all of the tools listed above will allow you to map a network drive letter to cloud storage, the tools vary widely in their capabilities. As such, there are some important things to look for when deciding on a solution.
- Supported Clouds
Even if your organization has standardized on a platform such as Amazon S3 for cloud storage, changing business requirements could mean that users need to access OneDrive for Business, Google Drive or practically any other type of cloud storage in the future. One of the best ways to protect your investment in cloud storage connectivity software is to look for a solution that works with all of the major cloud providers. Ideally, such a solution should allow for simultaneous connectivity to multiple clouds.
- Cross-Platform Support
Another consideration that you should take into account is cross-platform support. If you have both PCs and Macs in your office, it is better from a support standpoint to find a single solution that works on both platforms, rather than adopt one product for PCs and another for Macs.
Ideally, any tool for mapping storage should be easy to configure. Administrators should not have to guess how to set it up, and users should not have to struggle with how to use the software. It should be seamless, exposing cloud data through any application. There are cloud connectivity tools that I omitted from the list above because they function more as cloud browsers than mapped drives. This means that cloud data has to be accessed through a proprietary application rather than being made available seamlessly through a simple network drive letter.
- Transfer Speed
Another consideration when shopping for a cloud storage client is that it can efficiently transfer data to or from the cloud. Although the products listed earlier in this article have received favorable reviews for performance, some cloud clients that have a reputation for being slow. (In the interest of full disclosure, ExpanDrive is the only product on the list that I have spent any significant amount of time using.)
In addition to these general considerations, organizations must keep in mind specific business, industry, regulatory and security requirements. Organizations should also review the performance and relevance of storage systems on an ongoing basis as business and customer needs invariably change.