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:

Personal Storage is an optional feature that can be turned on to be made available to Filr users. When enabled, storage capacity is allocated for users for personal reasons. Yes, some companies actually allow their users to store personal files albeit with limits and quotas. Users will definite appreciate the generous gesture from the IT.

Net Folder is something new in the Novell world, but definitely not in the world of storage.

One of the challenges we face in the world of Windows NAS (Network Attached Storage) is the use of network drives (and drive letters). The typical network drives are mapped and associated UNC (Universal Naming Convention) addressing. The syntax of UNC path used in NAS is \\servername\sharename. In a large scale implementation, the maps of drive letters to UNC can be confusing and daunting. They become less “human-friendly”.

The typical solution to the above challenge is to introduce Microsoft Dfs, which allows the logical groups of various file services and UNCs under a common namespace. The Dfs implementation, if configured with the typical Windows tools, is complex. There are many 3rd party solutions in the market, both hardware or software or an combination of both, that address this requirement and they are termed as NAS Virtualization, Network File Virtualization and so on. I personally, have managed the EMC Rainfinity product range during my time there and I am aware of a few others like the F5 ARX as well as a small company called AutoVirt. Incidentally, a quick check led me to the news that AutoVirt going out of business in 2011. I also recalled that Brocade had one called File Area Network (FAN).

Whatever it is called, NAS Virtualization or network file system virtualization, the idea of a global namespace to put CIFS/SMB shares and NFS exports under one umbrella is a good one. Unfortunately, the market never really took off. EMC Rainfinity was a hard sell and I was informed by a friend who was previously employed by F5 that the ARX solution isn’t exactly flying off the shelf either.

Novell Filr Net Folder is an implementation of NAS Virtualization in my point of view. It simplifies the shares and network file links underneath and presents a simplified logical interface. In the 2 diagrams (before and after) below, Novell Filr virtualizes the file shares to logical, human-friendly names and allow something like Windows ABE (access-based enumeration) to filter which files can be viewed by which users.

Personally, despite the hard-sells I mentioned above, I have strong confidence that this Net Folder feature would change the way we look at NAS Virtualization. Why, you said?

Traditional network file access cannot work with mobile devices. The concept of network file sharing breaks down because mobile apps do not require the user to map network drives and type in the UNC path names. Therefore, there has to be a way for mobile apps to access the folders and files. And Novell Filr has done it by virtualizing and unifying the network file shares and file systems under a single storage folder namespace called Net Folders. This feature has put NAS Virtualization back into good use again, without the complexity of past solutions I have mentioned.

I definitely like what I have read and seen. As the world of mobility is changing the way users access files and data, there are many solutions out there. I have said in my Novell Filr’s first blog entry there are many pretenders, and too few real players. Many have come forth to say they are open and they are enterprise ready but under the microscope, the lock-in factor is pretty obvious.

If I was to choose an open EFSS solution, Novell Filr is definitely the one that stands out.

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About cfheoh

I am a technology blogger with 30 years of IT experience. I write heavily on technologies related to storage networking and data management because those are my areas of interest and expertise. I introduce technologies with the objectives to get readers to know the facts and use that knowledge to cut through the marketing hypes, FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) and other fancy stuff. Only then, there will be progress. I am involved in SNIA (Storage Networking Industry Association) and between 2013-2015, I was SNIA South Asia & SNIA Malaysia non-voting representation to SNIA Technical Council. I currently employed at iXsystems as their General Manager for Asia Pacific Japan.

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