Novell Filr Technology Overview – Part 2

Part 1 of the Novell Filr Technology Overview was too heavy and I had to break up to share the feature of storage.

How will storage space look like to the different access methods or mobile device? Novell Filr does not deviate from the comfortable interface that is functionally similar to applications such as Dropbox. Under the guise of folders and files, the interface is a familiar one. It is called “MY FILES”.

But under the wraps of “MY FILES”, Novell Filr consolidates both Personal Storage and Net Folders locations under one roof. Here’s a look at “MY FILES” and how it consolidates various underlying file storage structure:

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Novell Filr Technology Overview Part 1

I am like a kid opening presents on Christmas mornings today.

Reading and understanding the Novell Filr architecture is exciting with each feature revealing something different, some that may not be entirely unique, but something done simplified. Novell Filr has simplified a few things that are much more appreciated from storage guys like me. Let me share with you this technology learning session.

2 Key Features

First of all, I see the Novell Filr as a Secure Access Broker.

The Novell Filr provides file access, file sharing and file synchronization with multiple mobile devices. The mobility revolution in the likes of smart phones, tablets and other “connected” devices in our personal lives are changing our habits in the way we want information to be accessed, which I can summarize in 2 words – SIMPLE, UNINHIBITED. It is the lack of inhibition that scares the hell out of IT because IT is losing control, and corporations fear data leaks.

Novell Filr lets users access their home directories and network folders from their mobile devices. It lets the users synchronize their files with Windows and MacOS computers, regardless if these devices are internal of the company’s firewalled networks or external of it. Here’s a simple diagram of how Novell Filr defines its position as a Secure Access Broker.

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The openness of Novell Filr technology

In the previous blog entry, I spoke about finally getting the opportunity look deeper into Novell Filr technology. As I continue my journey of exploration, I am already consolidating information about the other EFSS (Enterprise File Synchronization and Sharing) solutions out there.

Many corporate IT users are moving away from pedantic corporate IT control toward the seemingly easy to synchronize, easy to share, cloud-based services such as Dropbox and Box.net. This practice exposes a big hole in the corporate network, leaking data and files, and yet most corporate IT users are completely ignorant about such a irresponsible act.

Corporate IT users cannot blame IT for being a big A-hole because they keep tight controls of the network and security. It is their job to safeguard the company’s data and files for security, compliance and privacy reasons.

In the past 9-12 months, IT has certainly relaxed (probably “relented” is a better word) their uptight demeanour because they know they couldn’t stop the onslaught of BYOD (bring your own devices). The C-level and the senior management have practically demanded it and had forced their way to bring in their own smart devices and tablets to increase their productivity (Yeah, right!).

To alleviate data security concerns, MDM (Mobile Device Management) solutions are now hot items on the IT shopping list. Since we are talking about Novell, I also got to know that Novell also has an MDM solution called ZenWorks Mobile Management. Novell Zenworks is already well integrated with the proven Novell track record of user and identity management as well as integration with LDAP authentication systems such as Active Directory and eDirectory.

The collision of the BYOD phenomena and the need to securely share corporate data and files security conceives the Enterprise File Synchronization and Sharing market. (more…)

Novell Filr about to be revealed

My training engagement landed me in Manila this week. At the back of my mind is Novell Filr, first revealed to me a week ago by my buddy at Novell Malaysia. After almost 18 months since I first wrote about it, Novell Filr is about to be revealed in my blog within this month. And it has come at an opportune time, because the enterprise BYOD/file synchronization market is about to take off.

Gartner defines this market as Enterprise File Synchronization and Sharing (EFSS) and it is already a very crowded market given the popularity of Dropbox, Box.net, Sugarsync and many, many others. It is definitely a market that is coveted by many but mastered by a few. There are just too many pretenders and too few real players.

The proliferation of smart phones and tablets and other mobile devices has opened up a burgeoning need to have data everywhere. The wonderfulness of having data right at the fingertips every time they are wanted give rise to the need of wanting business and corporate data to be available as well. The power of having data instantly at the swipe of our fingers on the touchscreen is akin us feeling like God, giving life to our communication and us making opportunities come alive at the very moment. (more…)

Feed us with Filr

I have checked about the progress of Novell Filr, which has generated a lot of buzz on the web. I blogged about it here and here and I was hoping to get a job to review the product. But I didn’t get the job yet, because the product will only be available in Q4 of 2012.

That’s a long time to come to market, considering that from the time it was announced in Novell BrainShare in November 2011. And the competitors are gearing up as well. There is Dropbox for the enterprise called Dropbox for Teams, and VMware is doing something along the same lines called Project Octopus. I am pretty sure there are plenty of other vendors who are already offering something equivalent to what the Novell Filr can do.

I browsed around the web for more info about the Novell Filr, hoping that it won’t be like a blackhole after Novell’s announcement. Fortunately, I found more details which I thought was interesting but it took a while after 5 or 6 Google pages.

The set of slides I found belonged to Anthony Priestman of Novell. The slides started with the Novell Filr ease of installation.

  • Local Administrator/Password
  • Server Name
  • IP Address
  • Finalize the configuration with a browser

In a nutshell Novell Filr is a virtualization service. It virtualizes the backend NTFS shares, CIFS shares, identity management through Active Directory or Novell eDirectory, as well as access control and security to present a “merged-view” of files and folders from different disparate sources.

Going deeper, the Novell Filr becomes the orchestrator and broker, linking up the backend to the front end with ease and simplicity. Even though it sounds easy, the entire architecture and its implementation is complicated because there are so many components and services involved.

Therefore, to make file services and authentication services matters easy and simple should be considered genius, and we shall see how Novell Filr pans out when it is released. I have no doubt in my mind that it will be easy and simple.

Here’s a deeper look at the architecture:

The Filr integrates with both Novell eDirectory and Windows Active Directory for authentication and file access control. I

One of the new concepts is called File Spaces. This is great, because this is going to do away with drive letters that we are so used to in mapped drives concept in Windows. There is a running joke that the number of mapped drives in Windows will run out after the letter Z:.

File Spaces allows a simple folder to represent any Windows shares, NAS CIFS shares or Novell NSS volumes. This is based on UNC (Universal Naming Convention), so it is straightforward. File Spaces also allows users to right-click to share their files easily, probably similar to how you share Google Docs files when you want to invite team members to collaborate on files. And it will update you on notifications after files have been updated or modified. This ease-of-sharing, of course, is governed with higher, company-wide policies about file sharing, both internally and externally (across firewalls as well)

Both the most powerful feature of File Spaces is the ability to have a single, “merged-view” of all files and folders with all types of devices, from tablets, to smartphones to laptops. The slide below explains a bit of File Spaces “Merged Views”:

The view of files and folders will look like the following below:

The Novell Filr concept and technology is going to define the new file sharing, home and user directories landscape in IT. The archaic concept of mapped drives will slowly fade away, and the Filr will bring forth new frontiers of tight and secure enterprise user and resource management, but with the ease of use and simplicity of sharing concepts of social media. 

Some older implementations from Novell will eventually be replaced by Filr. iFolder, Netstorage, and QuickFinder will go the way of the dodos, while the next generation Filr will become the flagship of the new Novell.

This sounds dandy. Unfortunately, I personally am worried about how Novell’s new owner, Attachmate will be good to Novell. Right now, the future of Novell seems like business as usual but that’s not good. Novell has been losing mindshare and they had better make their stand with a strong product like Novell Filr.

Like I said earlier, the product is shipping in late of 2012. It was announced in late 2011. That’s a whole 12 months in which Novell could do much better by feeding the minds of followers of Novell Filr. Let them and people like me, learn more about the technology. Let us help spread the idea and word and keep the Novell Filr interests up and the fire burning until the launch date.

Dropbox – everyone literally dropping their pants

I am not a DropBox user (yet)

But as far as users habits are concerned, Dropbox is literally on fire, and everyone is basically dropping their pants for them. Why? Because Dropbox solves a need that everyone of us has, and have been hoping someone else had a solution for it.

It all started when the founder, Drew Houston, was on a bus ride from Boston to New York. He wanted to work on the 4-hour bus journey, and he had his laptop. Unfortunately, he forgot his thumb drive where his work was and the Dropbox idea was born. Drew wrote some codes to allow him to access his files anywhere, with any device and as they say, “Necessity is the mother of invention”. And it did.

Together with his fellow MIT student, Arash Fedowsi, Drew Houston work on the idea and got funding after that. With a short history about 4 years, it has accumulated about 40 million users by June of 2011. They based their idea of “freemium”, a business model that works by offering a product or service free of charge (typically digital offerings such as software, content, games, web services or other) while charging a premium for advanced features, functionality, or related products and services. And it’s catching like wildfire.

So, how does Dropbox work? In my usual geeky ways, the diagram below should tell the story.

The Dropbox service works flawlessly with MacOS, Windows and Linux. And it has client apps for Apple iOS and Google Android. The copy of the files can be accessible anywhere by almost any device and this simplicity is what the beauty of Dropbox is all about.

In a deeper drive, Dropbox clients basically communicate with the Dropbox server/service in the “cloud” from literally anywhere. The requests for opening a file, reading or writing to it rides on the RESTful cacheable communication protocol encapsulated in the HTTP services. For more info, you can learn about the Dropbox API here.

More about Dropbox in the YouTube video below:

One of the concerns of the cloud is security and unfortunately, Dropbox got hit when they were exposed by a security flaw in June 2011. Between a period of almost 4 hours, after a Dropbox maintenance upgrade, a lot of users’ folders were viewable by everyone else. That was scary but given the freemium service, that is something the users have to accept (or is it?)

This wildfire idea is beginning to take shape in the enterprises as well, with security being the biggest things to address. How do you maintain simplicity and make the users less threatened but at the same time, impose security fences, data integrity and compliance for corporate responsibility? That’s the challenge IT has to face.

Hence, necessity is the mother of invention again. Given the requirement of enterprise grade file sharing and having IT to address the concerns about security, integrity, controls, compliance and so on and not to mention the growth magnitude of files in the organization, Novell, which I had mentioned in my earlier blog, will be introducing something similar by early next year in 2012. This will be the security-enhanced, IT-controlled, user-pleasing file sharing and file access solution called Novell Filr. There’s a set of presentation slides out there.

We could see the changing of the NAS landscape as well because the user experience is forcing IT to adapt to the changes. Dropbox is one of the pioneers in this new market space and we will see more copy-cats out there. What’s more important now is how the enterprise NAS will do the address this space?

Novell Fil(e)r … Files, my way

I took a bit of time of my busy schedule this week to learn a bit more about the Novell Filr.

Firstly, it is a F-I-L-E-R, spelled “Filr”, something like Tumblr, or Razr. I think it’s pretty inventive but putting marketing aside, I learned about a little of how the idea works behind the concept. Right now, my evaluation is pretty much on the surface because I am working out the time for a real-life demo and hands-on later on.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, the idea behind Novell Filr is to allow the users to access their files anywhere, any device. The importance of this concept is to allow the users to stay in their comfort zone. This simple concept, of having the users being comfortable, is something that we should not overlook, because it brings together the needs of the enterprise and the IT organization and the needs of the individual users in a subtle, yet powerful way. It allows the behavioral patterns of the “lazy” users to be corralled into what IT wants them to do, that is to have the users’ files secured, protected and be in IT’s control. OK, that was my usual blunt way of saying it but I believe this is a huge step forward to address the issues at hand. And I am sorry for saying that the users are “lazy” but that’s what the IT guys would say.

What are the usual issues usually faced when it comes to dealing with user files? Let me count the ways:

  • Users don’t put the files in backup folders as they were told and they blame IT for not backing up their files
  • Users keep several copies of the files and email, share through thumb drives etc, to their friends and colleagues. IT gets blames for ever growing storage capacity needs and even worse, breaching the security of the organization as internal files are shared to outsiders.
  • Users wants to get their files on iPads, iPhones, Android Pads, BlackBerry and other smart devices and saying IT is too archaic. Users said that they are less productive if they can’t get the files anywhere. IT gets the blame again
  • Users has little discipline to change their habits and to think about file security and ownership of company’s private and confidential data – sharing files happily and IT gets blame

These points, from the IT point-of-view, are exactly the challenges faced daily. That is why users are flocking to Box.Net, DropBox and Windows Live SkyDrive because they want simplicity; they want freedom; they want IT to get off their back. But all these “confrontations” are comprising the integrity of the files and data of the organization.

Novell Filr, is likely to be one of the earliest solutions to address this problem. It attempts to marry both the simplicity and freedom ala-DropBox for the users, but in the IT backend, where the organization’s files will be stored, IT runs a tight ship of the users AAA (authentication, authorization and auditing) and at the same time, includes the Novell File Management Suite. As shown below, Novell File Management Suite consists of 3 main solutions.

I will probably talk more about the File Management Suite in another blog entry, but meanwhile, how does the Novell Filr work?

First of all, it sits between the conversation between the users’ devices (typically, this will be a Windows computer accessing a network drive via CIFS) and the central file storage. You know? The usual file sharing concept, but this traditional approach limits the users to only computers, not smart devices such as smartphones and tablets.

In the spirit of DropBox, I believe a Novell Filr client (computers, smart devices etc) speaks with the Novell Filr “middleware” with standard RESTful API, over HTTP. I still need to ascertain this because I have not had any engagement with Novell yet, nor have I seen the product. In the slides given to me, the explanation at 10,000 feet is shown below.

I will share more details later once I have more information.

At the same time, I cannot help but notice this changing trend of NAS. It seems to me that many of the traditional NAS ideas going the way of the REST protocol, especially in a object-based “file” access. In fact, the definition of a “file” would also be changing into a web object. While the tide has certainly rising on this subject, we shall see how it pans out as SMB 2.0 and NFS version 4.0 start making inroads to replace the NAS protocols of CIFS 1.1 and NFS version 3.0.

As I mentioned previously, this is not disruptive to me and I know of several vendors already have developments similar to this. But the fundamental shift of users behaviors to the Web 3.0 type of data, files and information access might be addressed well with the Novell Filr.

I can’t wait for the hands-on and demo, knowing that much can be addressed in the enterprise file management space by changing the users habits, in a subtle but definitely more effective way.

Novell Filr (How do you pronounce this?)

I let you in on a little secret … I am a great admirer of Novell’s technology.

Ok, ok, they aren’t what they used to be anymore (remember the great heydays of Netware, ZenWorks and Groupwise?) And some of their business decisions didn’t make a lot of fans either. Some notable ones in recent years were the joint patent agreement with Microsoft (November 2006) and their ownership of Unix operating system rights. Though Novell did finally protected the Unix community by being the rightful owner of Unix OS rights, the negativity from the lawsuit and counter lawsuit between SCO and Novell soured the relationship with the faithfuls of Unix. In the end, they were acquired by Attachmate late last year.

However, I have been picking up bits of Novell technology knowledge for the past 3-4 years. Somehow, despite the negative perception that most people I know had about Novell, I strongly believe the ideas and thinking that goes into their solutions and products are smart and innovative.

So, when my buddy (and ex-housemate) of mine, Mr. Ong Tee Kok, the Country Manager of Novell Malaysia, asked me to evaluate a new solution from Novell (it’s not even been released yet), I jumped at the chance.

Novell will soon be announce a solution called Novell Filr. I really don’t know how to pronounce the name, but the concept of Novell Filr makes a lot of sense. I cannot say that it is disruptive but it is coming to meet the changing world of how users are storing and accessing their files and balancing it with the needs of enterprise file management and access.

Yes, Novell Filr is a file virtualization solution. It comes between the user and their files. Previously in a network attached environment, files are presented to the users via the typical file sharing protocols, CIFS for Windows and NFS for Unix/Linux. These protocols have been around for ages, with some recent advents in the last few years for SMB 2.0 and NFS version 4. However, the updates to these protocols address the greater needs of the organizations and the enterprise rather than the needs of the users.

And because of this, users have been flocking to cloud-centric solutions out there such as DropBox, Box.net and Windows Live SkyDrive. These solutions cater to the needs of the users wanting to access their files anywhere, with any device. Unfortunately, the simplicity of file access the “cloud-way” is not there when the users are in the office network. They would have to be routinely reminded by the system administrator to keep the files in some special directory to have their files backed up. Otherwise, they shall be ostracized by the IT department and their straying files will not be backed up.

Well, Novell will be introducing their Novell Filr soon and they have released a video of their solution. Check this out.

I shall be spending some time this week to look into their solution deeper and hoping to see a demo soon. And I have great confidence in the Novell solutions. I intend to share more about them later.