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Windows Server 2012 R2 Work Folders enable BYOD synchronization

Work Folders, a Windows Server 2012 R2 feature, lets users synchronize data on tablets and laptops so they can work from anywhere.

Work Folders is a new feature in Windows Server 2012 R2 that allows users to synchronize data across multiple devices for offline use. A user might synchronize a folder with her laptop and tablet to edit documents in that folder while working offline. The changes are synchronized the next time the user connects.

What clients support Work Folders?

The only clients that will support Work Folders are Windows 8.1 and iPad, but Microsoft has indicated that support for other operating systems will be added in the future.

You can enable the Work Folders feature, a component of the File and Storage Services Role, through Server Manager or through PowerShell. Once enabled, you can configure Work Folders using the steps outlined below.

How to configure Work Folders

The first steps in configuring Work Folders involve setting aside some New Technology File System storage to store synchronized data and create a new sync share.

To create a sync share, select the New Sync Share option from the Tasks dropdown. This will launch Windows' New Sync Share Wizard. Click Next to bypass the wizard's Welcome screen.

Figure 1. You must choose the server that will host the synchronized data.
Figure 1. You must choose the server that will host the synchronized data.

The next screen will ask you to select the server on which you'll create the sync share (Figure 1), then choose an existing file share or to enter a local path.

The next screen asks you to choose a format to name the folder. You have two options:

  1. Use user aliases, which are helpful if you already have a folder structure in place based on user aliases.
  2. Use a user@domain format. This is often best for organizations with multiple domains because it eliminates the possibility of a conflict with multiple users from different domains having identical aliases.
Figure 2. Choose the folder-naming format.

Figure 2. Choose the folder-naming format.

This screen also contains a checkbox to specify subfolders you want to synchronize (Figure 2).

Synchronization occurs on a per-user basis, which is why the sync share can use either user aliases or email addresses. Work folders only serve as a mechanism for making a user's files available to him to work offline. Work folders can't be used for collaboration, although Microsoft has hinted that this capability may be coming.

Click Next, and you'll be prompted to enter a sync share name. You can also enter an optional description to document the purpose of the sync share.

The following screen asks you to specify the users or groups who need access. The most noteworthy thing on this screen is a checkbox labeled Disable Inherited Permissions and Grant Users Exclusive Access to Their Files. This box is selected by default, but it may be a good idea to deselect it. Otherwise, the administrator won't have access to user files.

Click Next and you'll be taken to the Specify Device Policies screen, which provides two check boxes: Encrypt Work Folders and Automatically Lock Screen and Require a Password. You can enable or disable these options with the checkboxes.

Click Next to get a confirmation screen. Assuming everything looks good, click Create to create the sync share.

How a user will connect to a designated work folder will depend on the type of device that user works from. Client connectivity is built into Windows 8.1, but users with other device types will likely have to download a client from the app store.

The client component requires the user to enter his address and URL for the work folder. IIS is also installed when you install the Work Folders server role, which is why a work folder URL is used.

Windows Server 2012 R2 is still in preview release, so it remains to be seen how well the feature works in the final release or which client platforms it will support. Some at Microsoft have indicated it will eventually support Windows 8.1, Windows RT 8.1, Windows 7 and iOS.

About the author
Brien Posey is an eight-time Microsoft MVP for his work with Windows Server, IIS, Exchange Server and file system storage technologies. Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and health care facilities, and was once responsible for IT operations at Fort Knox. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the nation's largest insurance companies.

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Is this not just Offline Files?