Lead Image © Illustrator, 123RF.com

Lead Image © Illustrator, 123RF.com

Novell Filr 1.0 tested

Cloudy with a Chance of File Servers

Article from ADMIN 18/2013
External staff, home offices, individual smartphones, and cloud services like Dropbox can easily drive a security-conscious admin crazy. But, Novell's Filr file storage system is designed to solve most of these problems.

If you believe the marketing hype, collaboration platforms such as SharePoint, OX App Suite, Kolab, and Zarafa can do everything: With their integrated document management, they are the focal point of corporate communications and, of course, the starting point for file storage. Today, people need to organize and process many documents, and storing documents related to a reference contact, event, or project on this type of system is a good idea.

People who use centralized file storage benefit the most. The ideal situation is for companies to require their employees to use existing document management solutions. The manufacturers of these systems see the same problem from a different angle; for them, it is a matter of coordinating teamwork and storing documents efficiently.

File Servers

The integration of external employees gives the topic a whole new dimension. A secure VPN access to the company's file server is possible in principle but not very practical on mobile devices. The current protocols and network filesystems are not designed for mobile use. What can an external employee do if the admin restricts access to network drives or if the network is not working as it should? In the worst case – and without the knowledge of the admin – users will upload company documents to Dropbox and synchronize them with other devices and their home office.

Although traditional file servers are currently still standard in many companies, a solution that gives all employees – whether internal or external – a consolidated view of the data is really what's needed. Such a solution removes the need for the users to battle with server names, long URLs, drive names, paths, and the like. Additionally, mobile device users can access their documents offline. A web interface is needed to ensure that access to your own data is also possible with clients on which you can't install any software. The solution also needs to ensure that all data is encrypted for mobile device access and not exported to a public cloud. Integration with an existent directory service makes a separate user management obsolete and handles permissions for file sharing centrally. Novell's new Filr service is such a solution.

What Is Filr?

Novell Filr [1] is a new file-sharing platform designed as a cloud solution. Filr, which is conceptually similar to an internally hosted ownCloud installation, focuses exclusively on file-sharing and collaboration features. Filr makes the file server (network drives) and storage resources available via a logical abstraction layer. Internal and external users thus can easily access their data and share it with other users across organizational boundaries. Access to Filr is possible either via the modern web interface, a mobile app for iOS and Android, or native applications for Windows and Mac OS. Filr also has a powerful, Lucene-based, full-text search feature.

Connections to Filr are encrypted using SSL throughout. All files remain on the company's servers behind the corporate firewall, which ensures a high level of security. Additionally, Filr admins can also set up quotas at user, group, or location level. A Filr license with one year of standard support costs EUR 104; 50 licenses with one year of support is EUR 5,200.

Under the Hood

A Filr setup usually consists of three VMware virtual machines running SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. The machines provide the Filr software, the full-text search engine, and a MySQL database. The database is not used to manage files and directories  – Filr does not duplicate data but leaves it where it is. Instead, it connects the filesystem resources with the Filr users, storing their rights, external user accounts, and connection information for proxy users.

In addition to local disks, Filr supports NFS, Network Attached Storage (NAS) via NetApp, and Storage Area Network (SAN). On top of this, Filr can integrate existing data sources that are accessible via SMB/CIFS or Novell Core Protocol (NCP), for example, on Windows 2003/2008, Novell Open Enterprise 11 (OES), and NetWare 6.5.8 servers with at least one NSS volume.

Filr supports the NTFS ext3, XFS, and Btrfs filesystems. If you want to use Filr just to serve up user directories (My files ) rather than network folders, the system can also operate without a file server. Novell states that the minimum requirements for the host system are 12GB of RAM and 100GB of hard disk space for a small installation: Filr, a MySQL database, and the Lucene engine all run on a virtual machine.

An alternative is a large setup with three separate virtual appliances for the Filr software, the database, and the Lucene engine. Any registered user can download an evaluation version of Filr 1.0 [2] in the form of an Open Virtualization Format virtual appliance (Filr.x86_64-0.0.459.ovf.zip) from the Novell download page [3]. Although you can run this for a quick test on VMware Player or VirtualBox, you do need at least one host running ESX, ESXi 4.1.x, ESXi 5.0, or ESXi 5.1 with all the current updates for production operations.

For a large setup, you additionally need to download two additional virtual applications: Filrsearch.x86_64-0.0.296.ovf.zip (Lucene) and MySQL.x86_64-0.0.188.ovf.zip. The desktop clients for Windows and Mac OS are also available from the download area. The mobile clients are available from the usual sources: App Store for iOS and Google Play for Android. Alternatively, you can register directly on the Filr download page [4] for the Filr evaluation. Novell runs a well-stocked documentation page [5] with detailed documentation for admins and users, installation instructions, and Quick Start guides in various languages.

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