Introducing Work Folders on Windows Server 2012 R2

Published Apr 10 2019 03:00 AM 3,028 Views
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First published on TECHNET on Jul 09, 2013
This post is a part of the nine-part “ What’s New in Windows Server & System Center 2012 R2 ” series that is featured on Brad Anderson’s In the Cloud blog.  Today’s blog post covers Windows Server 2012 R2 Work Folders and how it applies to Brad’s larger topic of “People-centric IT.”  To read that post and see the other technologies discussed, read today’s post:  “ Making Device Users Productive and Protecting Corporate Information .”

Hello, my name is Nir Ben-Zvi and I work in the Windows Server team. I’m very excited to introduce to you Windows Server Work Folders, which is a new file server based sync solution in Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows 8.1.

During Windows Server 2012 R2 planning, we noticed two converging trends around managing and protecting corporate data:

· Users: “I need to work from anywhere on my different devices”

· IT: “I’d like to empower my Information Workers (users) while reducing information leakage and keeping control of the corporate data that is sprawled across devices”

Work Folders enables IT administrators to provide Information Workers the ability to sync their work data on all their devices wherever they are while remaining in compliance with company policies. This is done by syncing user data from devices to on-premise file servers, which are now extended to include a new sync protocol.

Work Folders as Experienced by an Information Worker

To show how this works, here’s an example of how an information worker, Joe, might use Work Folders to separate his work data from his personal data while having the ability to work from any device: When Joe saves a document on his work computer in the Work Folders directory, the document is synced to an IT-controlled file server. When Joe returns home, he can pick up his Surface RT (where the document is already synced) and head to the beach. He can work on the document offline, and when he returns home the document is synced back with the file server and all of the changes are available to him the next day when he returns to the office.

Looks familiar? Indeed, this is how consumer storage services such as SkyDrive and business collaboration services such as SkyDrive Pro work. We kept the user interaction simple and familiar so that there is little user education required. The biggest difference from SkyDrive or SkyDrive Pro is that the centralized storage for Work Folders is an on-premise file server running Windows Server 2012 R2, but we’ll get to that a little later in this post.

Work Folders as Experienced by an IT Admin

IT administrators can use Work Folders to gain more control over corporate data and user devices and centralize user work data so that they can apply the appropriate processes and tools to keep their company in compliance. This can range from simply having a copy of the data if the user leaves the company to a wide range of capabilities such as backup, retention, classification and automated encryption.

For example, when a user authors a sensitive document in Work Folders on their work PC, it gets synced to the file server. The file server then can automatically classify the document based on content, if configured using File Server Resource Manager, and encrypt the document using Windows Rights Management Services before syncing the document back to all the user’s devices. This allows a seamless experience for the user while keeping the organization in compliance and preventing leakage of sensitive information.

For more details about Work Folders deployment see the following blog: Deploying Work Folders in your lab and Channel 9 video

Work Folders Capabilities

Work Folders is part of the People-Centric IT pillar in Windows Server 2012 R2. This pillar includes other important capabilities such as Workplace Join, Web Application Proxy and Device management. While these capabilities are integrated, they are also independent so that you can use them as standalone solutions to get immediate value as you deploy each capability.

Our main design focus around Work Folders was to keep it simple for the Information Workers while allowing IT administrators to use the familiar low cost, high scale Windows file server with all the rich functionality available on the backend from high availability to comprehensive data management.

Here is some of the functionality that Work Folders includes:

  • Provide a single point of access to work files on a user’s work and personal PCs and devices (Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1, with immediate plans to follow up with Windows 7 and iPad support and other devices likely in the future)
  • Access work files while offline and sync with the central file server when the PC or device next has Internet or network connectivity
  • Maintain data encryption in transit as well as at rest on devices and allow corporate data wipe through device management services such as Windows Intune
  • Use existing file server management technologies such as file classification and folder quotas to manage user data
  • Specify security policies to instruct user PCs and devices to encrypt Work Folders and use a lock screen password, for example
  • Use Failover Clustering with Work Folders to provide high-availability solution

I should mention a few scoping decisions that we made in this release so that we could complete Work Folders in the short release cycle for Windows Server 2012 R2:

  • Backend storage is provided by on-premise file servers and Work Folders must be stored in local storage on the file server (e.g.: data can be on local shares on a Windows Server 2012 R2)
  • Users sync to their own folder on the file server - there is no support for syncing arbitrary file shares (e.g.: sync the sales demos share to my device)
  • Work Folders doesn’t provide collaboration functionality such as sharing sync files or folders with other users (we recommend using SkyDrive Pro if you need document collaboration features)

How Work Folders Compares to Other Microsoft Sync Technologies

Finally, I’d like to discuss how Work Folders fits in with other sync solutions that Microsoft provides, mainly SkyDrive and SkyDrive Pro. As described above, Work Folders provides a solution for customers that prefer to use traditional Windows file servers as the backend storage for the corporate data synced from user’s devices. This would work well for organizations that are already using a home folders or folder redirection solution or customers that already have established practice for managing and storing user data on file servers.

For customers that use SharePoint, SkyDrive Pro is a great solution that provides additional functionality ranging from rich collaboration features to a cloud service availability using Office 365

The table below shows the different options:

Consumer / personal data

Individual work data

Team / group work data

Personal devices

Access protocol

Data location





Public cloud

SkyDrive Pro





SharePoint / Office 365

Work Folders




File server

Folder Redirection / Client-Side Caching


SMB (only from on-prem or using VPN)

File server

More Information

For more details about Work Folders, you can view the following presentations that are available online:

· Work Folders Overview on TechNet

· Deploying Work Folders in your lab

· Work Folders overview in TechEd 2013

· Work Folders deep dive in TechEd 2013

To see all of the posts in this series, check out the What’s New in Windows Server & System Center 2012 R2 archive.

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