File Sharing and Offline Files Enhancements

IT professionals can take advantage of the Windows 7 file sharing enhancements to further improve user productivity in branch offices. Windows 7 provides:

  • Transparent caching on client computers for shared folders, reducing the time required to access files for the second and subsequent times across a slow network. This is combined with protocol enhancements that eliminate multiple, redundant network operations when opening or saving files to provide an improved application experience across slow networks.

  • Background synchronization capabilities for offline files, reducing administrative overhead and enhancing end-user experience.

Transparent caching

Before Windows 7, to open a file across a slow network, client computers always retrieved the file from the server computer, even if the client computer had recently read the file. With Windows 7 transparent caching, client computers cache remote files more aggressively, reducing the number of times a client computer might have to retrieve the same data from a server computer.

The first time a user opens a file in a shared folder, Windows 7 reads the file from the server computer and then stores it in a cache on the local disk. The second and subsequent times a user reads the same file, Windows 7 retrieves it from disk instead of reading it from the server computer.

To provide data integrity, Windows 7 always contacts the server computer to ensure the cached copy is up-to-date. The cache is never accessed if the server computer is unavailable, and updates to the file are always written directly to the server computer. Transparent caching is not enabled by default on fast networks.

IT Professionals can use Group Policy to enable transparent caching, to improve the efficiency of the cache, and to save disk space on the client, configuring the amount of disk space the cache uses and preventing specific file types from being synchronized.

These benefits are transparent to end-users and provide an experience for users at branch offices that more closely resembles the experience of being on the same LAN as servers. Additionally, the improved cache efficiency can reduce utilization across WAN links.

Background synchronization for offline files

With Windows Vista®, user updates to files are written to the server computer when the user is online. If the user is offline, the file updates are cached on the client computer’s disk and synchronized with the server the next time the user is online. In Windows 7, synchronization can happen automatically and in the background, without requiring the user to choose between online and offline modes.

File synchronization is transparent to the end user, centrally configurable using Group Policy settings, and can be monitored and controlled from Sync Center. This provides reliable and transparent shared folder synchronization, giving users access to files on shared folders even when they are disconnected from the network. Users need not worry about manually synchronizing their data over slow networks, and IT professionals are assured that data from client computers is backed up on the servers.

By making synchronization more powerful and transparent, Folder Redirection, a feature that allows user folders such as Documents to be re-directed to a server computer, becomes much more useful. IT professionals can use Group Policy settings to enable both Folder Redirection and synchronization. Windows 7 redirects user folders to the network location and automatically synchronizes files between the version on the client computer and the version on the server.

When the user disconnects from the network, Windows 7 opens the local copies of the files exactly as if the user were connected to the network, and changes synchronize the next time the user connects. This provides automatic network backup of user data without impacting the user. Windows 7 adds the “usually offline” mode, which provides similar capabilities when connected to a server across a slow network.