Back in the last Windows 8.1 focused post I discussed the client side experience for setting up Work Folders on Windows 8.1, but didn’t dig into any real details as to why. Today I’ll cover this off as to how it relates to Windows 8.1 and Windows 8..1 RT clients, but keep in mind that there are Windows 7 and iOS clients in development, so much of what follows will extend out to those environments as well.
I’ve already mentioned that Work Folders are supported out of box with Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 RT clients. If you think about the implications of Windows RT clients not being capable of joining a domain, you can start thinking about people using their own Windows 8.1 x86 and x64 devices in a corporate environment without joining a domain, or being constantly prompted for credentials.
Work Folders are enabled on Windows Server 2012 R2 as an extension of the file server capabilities, and this has some benefits in terms of being able to leverage the features that are sitting within the file server role, such as data classification to automatically apply Information Rights Management to files deemed sensitive. Of course you need to have the right rules and supporting technologies in place to allow this to happen.
The files are encrypted on the device, as well as in transit to and from the device, so IRM isn’t the only way in which data can be protected. You can also remotely wipe this storage container, leaving personal data intact. This has important implications to really make sure that users know how to work with different storage locations on their device such as Work Folders, SkyDrive Pro as well as consumer storage options such as SkyDrive.
You need to provide some clear guidance here to make sure users aren’t storing corporate information in a consumer cloud service, and that they aren’t wasting their internal storage allocation with private files. Work Folders work best with your own files that you don’t need to share with other people, while SkyDrive Pro allows much better sharing and enables multi user document sharing capabilities.
Work Folders are available inside your network with Windows integrated authentication, but they can also be published to external client devices using a digest prompt or via ADFS. Again, this requires infrastructure that may not already be deployed, as will require changes somewhere on your network perimeter.
So what doesn’t Work Folders do? One of the current limitations versus SkyDrive Pro is that it doesn’t just synchronise Office document changes, it synchronises the whole document. This isn’t that much of a problem inside a well connected network, but will have more of an impact for remote or external users.
You also can’t pick and choose which shares you want incorporated as a user, in the first release all you can only have a single Work Folder instance synchronise to your device. Time will tell if this changes with future updates, but before then we will get to see what the client experience is like on iOS and Windows 7 devices once those clients shipped.