The Windows 8 File History feature is designed to effortlessly protect end-user data by silently making backups of user files and providing file-versioning capabilities. It's no big secret that Microsoft designed File History as a consumer feature, but is File History suitable for business environments?
The short answer to the question is yes, with some caveats. File History doesn't contain any built-in restrictions that prevent an enterprise from enabling and using it. Of course, just because you can do something doesn't necessarily mean that you should. File History is a feature that is targeted at consumers, not enterprises. As such, there are a number of reasons why it might not be practical for use in corporate environments.
One of the big reasons why an enterprise organization might not benefit from using the File History feature has to do with the types of data that File History is designed to back up. Microsoft did not design File History to be a comprehensive backup solution. During the development of Windows 8, Microsoft realized that only about 5 percent of Windows 7 customers had the native backup application enabled.
Because of this, Microsoft set out to create a more targeted backup solution that required a lot less effort on the part of the end user. The problem with this approach is that File History does not back up the entire PC, or even an entire drive. Instead, File History only backs up user libraries, the desktop, favorites, and contacts. File History cannot be configured to back up applications or other folders that might contain data.
This is a problem in corporate environments because organizations with domain networks almost always use profile folder redirection to redirect user libraries to a network share. However, File History will not protect redirected libraries. Similarly, Windows offers the ability to add additional folders to the default library collection. Network folders that are added to the libraries cannot be protected by File History. These two limitations mean that File History can only protect user data that is stored locally on the desktop and in a protected folder.
Another reason File History might not be suitable for use on corporate networks has to do with the fact that File History could potentially undermine some of the organization's data storage requirements. Most larger organizations have data retention requirements that form the basis of their data lifecycle management policies. Document versions stored within File History could potentially exceed the retention threshold.
Even if the idea of storing user data for an excessive amount of time is not an issue for an organization, the security of that data probably is. File History is designed to protect data against loss, not to protected against unauthorized access. That being the case, it should come as no surprise that there is very little security surrounding the backup copy of user data.
File History works by designating an external hard drive as a dedicated storage repository for backing up protected data (data can also be written to the network). If removable storage is used for File History backups, then there is always the risk of sensitive data walking out the door as a result of someone stealing the external drive. Even if the drive itself is not stolen, File History can potentially be problematic in environments where multiple users share a common PC. There have been unconfirmed reports of one user being able to access backups of another user's data on shared PCs.
Although the File History feature does have its place, enterprise environments are probably better off using a different file-versioning and data-protection solution. For example, SharePoint offers file-versioning capabilities, and there are several backup applications that give users the ability to restore (or revert to a previous version of) file data.
If you do decide that the File History feature is not appropriate for use in your organization, then you should consider using Group Policy settings to disable it. To do so, open the Group Policy Editor and navigate to Computer Configuration | Administrative Templates | Windows Components | File History. You can use the Turn Off File History setting to prevent users from using the File History feature.