Choose cloud tiering policies

This article provides guidance for users who are selecting and adjusting their cloud tiering policies. Before reading through this article, ensure that you understand how cloud tiering works. For cloud tiering fundamentals, see Understand Azure File Sync cloud tiering. For an in-depth explanation of cloud tiering policies with examples, see Azure File Sync cloud tiering policies.


  • Cloud tiering is not supported on the Windows system volume.

  • You can still enable cloud tiering if you have a volume-level FSRM quota. Once an FSRM quota is set, the free space query APIs that get called automatically report the free space on the volume as per the quota setting.

Minimum file size for a file to tier

For agent versions 9 and newer, the minimum file size for a file to tier is based on the file system cluster size. The minimum file size eligible for cloud tiering is calculated by 2x the cluster size and at a minimum 8 KiB. The following table illustrates the minimum file sizes that can be tiered, based on the volume cluster size:

Volume cluster size Files of this size or larger can be tiered
4 KiB or smaller (4096 bytes) 8 KiB
8 KiB (8192 bytes) 16 KiB
16 KiB (16384 bytes) 32 KiB
32 KiB (32768 bytes) 64 KiB
64 KiB (65536 bytes) 128 KiB
128 KiB (131072 bytes) 256 KiB
256 KiB (262144 bytes) 512 KiB
512 KiB (524288 bytes) 1 MiB
1 MiB (1048576 bytes) 2 MiB
2 MiB (2097152 bytes) 4 MiB

Cluster sizes up to 2 MiB are supported with Azure File Sync agent version 12 but, for larger sizes, cloud tiering does not work.

All file systems that are used by Windows, organize your hard disk based on cluster size (also known as allocation unit size). Cluster size represents the smallest amount of disk space that can be used to hold a file. When file sizes do not come out to an even multiple of the cluster size, additional space must be used to hold the file - up to the next multiple of the cluster size.

Azure File Sync is supported on NTFS volumes with Windows Server 2012 R2 and newer. The following table describes the default cluster sizes when you create a new NTFS volume with Windows Server 2019.

Volume size Windows Server 2019
7 MiB – 16 TiB 4 KiB
16 TiB – 32 TiB 8 KiB
32 TiB – 64 TiB 16 KiB

It is possible that upon creation of the volume, you manually formatted the volume with a different cluster size. If your volume stems from an older version of Windows, default cluster sizes may also be different. This article has more details on default cluster sizes. Even if you choose a cluster size smaller than 4 KiB, an 8 KiB limit as the smallest file size that can be tiered, still applies. (Even if technically 2x cluster size would equate to less than 8 KiB.)

The reason for the absolute minimum is found in the way NTFS stores extremely small files - 1 KiB to 4 KiB sized files. Depending on other parameters of the volume, it is possible that small files are not stored in a cluster on disk at all. It's possibly more efficient to store such files directly in the volume's Master File Table or "MFT record". The cloud tiering reparse point is always stored on disk and takes up exactly one cluster. Tiering such small files could end up with no space savings. Extreme cases could even end up using more space with cloud tiering enabled. To safeguard against that, the smallest size of a file that cloud tiering will tier, is 8 KiB on a 4 KiB or smaller cluster size.

Selecting your initial policies

Generally, when you enable cloud tiering on a server endpoint, you should create one local virtual drive for each individual server endpoint. Isolating the server endpoint makes it easier to understand how cloud tiering works and adjust your policies accordingly. However, Azure File Sync works even if you have multiple server endpoints on the same drive, for details see the Multiple server endpoints on local volume section. We also recommend that when you first enable cloud tiering, you keep the date policy disabled and volume free space policy at around 10% to 20%. For most file server volumes, 20% volume free space is usually the best option.

For simplicity and to have a clear understanding of how items will be tiered, we recommend you primarily adjust your volume free space policy and keep your date policy disabled unless needed. We recommend this because most customers find it valuable to fill the local cache with as many hot files as possible and tier the rest to the cloud. However, the date policy may be beneficial if you want to proactively free up local disk space and you know files in that server endpoint accessed after the number of days specified in your date policy don't need to be kept locally. Setting the date policy frees up valuable local disk capacity for other endpoints on the same volume to cache more of their files.

After setting your policies, monitor egress and adjust both policies accordingly. We recommend specifically looking at the cloud tiering recall size and cloud tiering recall size by application metrics in Azure Monitor. To learn how to monitor egress, see Monitor cloud tiering.

Adjusting your policies

If the amount of files constantly recalled from Azure is larger than you want, you may have more hot files than you have space to save them on the local server volume. Increase your local volume size if possible, and/or decrease your volume free space policy percentage in small increments. Decreasing the volume free space percentage too much can also have negative consequences. Higher churn in your dataset requires more free space - for new files and recall of "cold" files. Tiering kicks in with a delay of up to one hour and then needs processing time, which is why you should always have ample free space on your volume.

Keeping more data local means lower egress costs as fewer files will be recalled from Azure, but also requires a larger amount of on-premises storage which comes at its own cost.

When adjusting your volume free space policy, the amount of data you should keep local is determined by the following factors: your bandwidth, dataset's access pattern, and budget. With a low-bandwidth connection, you may want more local data, to ensure minimal lag for users. Otherwise, you can base it on the churn rate during a given period. As an example, if you know that 10% of your 1 TiB dataset changes or is actively accessed each month, then you may want to keep 100 GiB local so you are not frequently recalling files. If your volume is 2 TiB, then you would want to keep 5% (or 100 GiB) local, meaning the remaining 95% is your volume free space percentage. However, you should add a buffer for periods of higher churn – in other words, starting with a larger volume free space percentage, and then adjusting it if needed later.

Standard operating procedures

  • When first migrating to Azure Files via Azure File Sync, cloud tiering is dependent on initial upload
  • Cloud tiering checks compliance with the volume free space and date policies every sixty minutes
  • Using the /LFSM switch on Robocopy when migrating files will allow files to sync and cloud tiering to make space during initial upload
  • If tiering occurs before a heatmap is formed, files will be tiered by last modified timestamp

Next steps