Perhaps the single most important role of IT is to provide fast, reliable access to files and information. For multi-location organizations, many teams have turned to Microsoft DFSR to allow users to access data from file servers closest in proximity to them. However, customers have experienced many of DFSR’s serious limitations and issues. So, what are the best Distributed File System Replication alternatives available?

What Is DFSR?

DFSR is short for Distributed File System – Replication, a feature offered by Microsoft on its Windows Server product. It is used to replicate and synchronize files across multiple servers, typically in different locations.

Originally released with Windows Server 2003 R2, DFSR was intended to be a solution for multi-location file distribution, and backup for business continuity. As what happens with a lot of technologies, organizations discovered additional uses cases such as file sharing and collaboration across offices. This increased use and eventually exposed weaknesses in volume and transactional capacity, administration, and missing capabilities. Fortunately, today, there are alternatives that can offer significant improvements over Microsoft’s solution.

Common DFS Issues

If your organization is using Windows Server, there is a good chance you are either using DFSR or have considered it. However, although it is a first-party feature, it has serious limitations and is often not the best choice for data replication software. These are five of the most significant issues that DFSR users experience:

DFSR only supports Microsoft Windows platforms. There are no options for non-Windows cloud, UNIX or enterprise NAS file systems.

This is most limiting if you want to use a different type of storage provider for your IT infrastructure, of course. However, it can be limiting even for organizations using Windows Server primarily. For example, you may want to have a cloud-based object storage solution to serve as a backup, which DFSR cannot support.

Many DFS Replication users find that the system works well for a smaller number of files. At scale, however, reliability starts to diminish. The cutoff point can be different for each organization. Nonetheless, after passing X gigabytes of storage and/or Y number of files, DFSR starts to struggle.

Simply put, Microsoft’s solution was built in the early 2000s without the scale of modern organizations’ digital property in mind. Digital files have become more numerous and more complex. Many users find that the architecture of DFSR simply cannot keep up.

Microsoft DFSR offers performance that is not up-to-par with modern standards. Synchronizing files over a WAN is often sluggish, especially when numerous changes are being made in a small time frame. The system struggles to keep files fully in-sync. This is especially noticeable with large data sets but is also present with a relatively small amount of data.

Today’s computer users are accustomed to real-time performance from their systems. Any file system that causes delays is going to be a source of frustration and productivity loss.

Additionally, many users complain about issues related to data scans. Typically, servers only synchronize file changes. However, they must periodically scan their files to ensure data integrity. This is often necessary when servers go offline for even a short period of time.

File system rescans can impact access performance. Users have also reported being unable to get systems back in sync after making changes to a sync partner (e.g. hardware upgrades).

Research indicates that 57% of organizations must have their mission-critical applications (one-third of all applications) back online within an hour of an outage. Other organizations aren’t far behind. Waiting for a slow and cumbersome rescan is simply not an option.

Microsoft’s solution does not lock files across distributed, synchronized servers when they are in use, or otherwise manage versions. This inevitably leads to file version conflicts where users are at risk of “stepping on” each other’s work.

Since DFSR replicates files on multiple servers, each office or team may have its own copy of a given file. There’s nothing preventing files from being modified simultaneously, often unknowingly. DFSR’s remedy for addressing conflicts is to select one copy while moving the others to a “Conflicts and Deleted Folder” list. Although someone could look back and reconcile conflicts, this is a very inefficient and error-ridden arrangement.

All the above issues are complicated by difficulties with troubleshooting DFSR. Many users have found that the system is something of a “black box.” If it is working, it largely delivers on its promised value. However, when it isn’t working, DFSR is almost a complete mystery for users.

Although DSFR is an included option of Windows Server, it isn’t considered a core product for Microsoft which makes support not always optimal. Microsoft’s website features pages of suggestions for troubleshooting common issues that paint one clear picture: trying to fix problems with DFSR is likely trying to solve a puzzle while wearing a blindfold.

Furthermore, DSFR cannot be updated separately from the operating system, meaning you can’t elect to use a specific version of DFSR while updating Windows and vice versa. If multiple systems have different versions of Windows, they can only access the smallest common feature set.

Replication Software vs. The Cloud

Many smaller teams are turning to the public cloud as an effective solution for making files available to teams in multiple locations. This option was not broadly available when Microsoft first released DFSR. Some have hoped that the cloud could completely replace the need for data replication software. However, the cloud has significant shortcomings.

One challenge faced by cloud infrastructure is the need to access files over the internet. This is bottlenecked by the speed and bandwidth of users’ internet connection. Although the difference between accessing a cloud-based and local server is minimal for a single small file, when multiplied by many users and many larger files per day, productivity loss can be substantial.

Cloud infrastructure can often be cost-prohibitive as well. With a large dataset, every transaction can cost money. A busy month may result in a shockingly high bill. Conversely, on-premise server costs are fixed, defined and predetermined.

While the public cloud can offer some advantages over DFSR, significant shortcomings remain. Fortunately, these can be resolved with the right system.

Choose the Better Option: A DFSR Replacement

The best file synchronization option is a DFSR replacement that can replicate files between multiple servers and locations while avoiding the scale and version-control issues of Microsoft’s system. PeerGFS provides a solution that brings together the benefits of DFSR, cloud storage and more.

  • Fast Synchronization:
    PeerGFS achieves real-time replication of files thanks to a highly optimized synchronization engine. Our delta-level replication engine sends only changed data segments of modified files, cutting down on needed WAN throughput.
  • File Locking:
    With PeerGFS, file locks are propagated globally when a copy at one location is opened, preventing version conflicts.
  • Platform-Agnostic Design:
    Unlike DFSR, PeerGFS supports a cross-platform infrastructure. You aren’t locked into any single major storage vendor. Furthermore, you can choose to keep all your files in your own data centers, or expand your storage environment to include cloud storage for a true hybrid-cloud infrastructure.
  • Powerful File Management:
    PeerGFS integrates with DFS Namespaces to ensure your files are always organized and easy to manage, while simultaneously enabling automatic failover from one storage system to another in the event of failure.
  • Centralized Management Console:
    View system activity in real-time via the native or web-based console.

PeerGFS enables fast access, centralized control, high-availability, and easy integration with existing and new infrastructure.

PeerGFS Config Example - CDP for Robo

File Replication Software Comparison

PeerGFS compares favorably to many other file system solutions.

  • DFSR:

    PeerGFS covers the drawbacks of Distributed File System Replication by offering cross platform compatibility, file locking, improved performance and superior scalability.

  • Windows-Based DFSR Replacement:

    Some alternatives to DFSR are also designed to work with Windows Server. While they offer some advantages over the native file system, they will lock you into a Windows-based infrastructure, limiting your organization as it continues to grow and evolve.

  • Proprietary File System Replacement:

    Other solutions use a proprietary file system, trading DFSR’s inflexible reliance on Windows Server for an inflexible reliance on their own file system. This can also increase the complexity and cost of starting.

  • Proprietary Cloud-Hybrid System:

    Some systems require that your data be kept in a private or public cloud object storage. These may also require a proprietary file system, a limiting and costly arrangement.

You don’t need to make sacrifices when choosing a distributed file system. Choose PeerGFS as your DFSR replacement to achieve optimal data replication paired with the flexibility of cross platform compatibility.

Find the Best DFSR Software for Your Enterprise Needs

PeerGFS offers a feature-rich and flexible multi-site, multi-platform, hybrid cloud-enabled file management solution. It provides all the benefits of a distributed file system without the drawbacks of Microsoft DFSR or other file replication systems. If you want to find the best replication software for your organizations’ unique needs, request a trial of PeerGFS to learn more.

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About the author

Mike Frost
Senior Solutions Architect at
With 16 years of pre-sales architecture and engineering in the storage, backup, archive, and virtualization space, Mike is currently focused on creating highly-available, collaborative file environments.