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Share and share alike

Share and share alike

Accessing network shares on a Windows server is a common practice with undeniable benefits, but with a significant shortcoming: it requires the client to be aware of the server name. Therefore, when a share is moved to a different server for routine maintenance tasks, the client must learn the new server. For network administrators, this results in significant work and inconvenience, something companies with hundreds of Windows users cannot afford.

Microsoft offers a more flexible approach to managing server shares, using the DFS (Distributed File System) Windows component. The most apparent benefit of DFS is that it isolates users from the physical location of each share, assigning a permanent name to user shares that is not dependent on the server name. As a result, the share name will not change when administrators move files around, which in turn reduces administrative work and cost.

One major shortcoming of DFS is its poor management interface, consisting of a streamlined Microsoft Management Console plug-in that is adequate for basic tasks but provides little help in documenting and managing a complex implementation. StorageX 1.0 from NuView makes DFS significantly easier to use and offers much better management than native Windows tools. Slightly disappointing was its limited, server-focused scope. StorageX should offer administrators more client support, which is important when implementing a complex environment such as DFS.

We downloaded a free evaluation of StorageX from NuView's Web site; users can try it out for 45 days. DFS is an obvious prerequisite for StorageX and should already be present on your Windows 2000 and later servers.

StorageX installed flawlessly and was ready to use in minutes. Opening the GUI displayed a two-pane screen, with the share structure on the left and details on the right. StorageX groups shares under two tabs, one of which shows the logical structure of your shares, and the other showing their physical structure. The logical structure displays all the share names to which users will have access; the physical structure maps the actual server and volume location of each directory.

Our panes were empty when we started our testing, so we created server-independent share names for our test users. We had already defined shared folders using common Windows tools such as Windows Explorer and Computer Manager. StorageX does not help in this task, but its GUI offers embedded links to quickly launch those tools. Of course, our shares had server-dependent names. For example, the directory for test user John on server Aries was known as \\aries\john.

Our next step was to create a DFS root on each server. Then we were ready to create server-independent names for our shares. StorageX makes the process of naming shares quite simple: choose Create New Link from the StorageX Menu, type the desired user-friendly name (John, in our example), and browse through the available shares to select the target directory. StorageX makes it possible to create multiple links in a single operation and define folders such as Sales, HR, or Marketing to group shares belonging to the same business department, which is a real time-saver.

Here, the advantages of StorageX and DFS become apparent. Our user John, from Sales, would know the share by its user-friendly, server-independent name \\sales\john. But behind the scenes, DFS still associates it to the actual server share \\aries\john. This capability gives administrators more flexibility in allocating each share to the server that can satisfy capacity and performance requirements, without disturbing users.

We moved to a client PC running Windows 2000 Professional and opened a new share without any problem. We connected our client to the share by typing a network command at the DOS prompt, but administrators would probably insert the command in a user log-in script. We would have liked for StorageX to automatically create those commands, because it would save administrators time. StorageX does, however, supply a handful of reports documenting the new shares, which can help administrators keep track of the share names.

Back in the StorageX GUI, we changed the actual target directory for our users to a different server. This is a common management scenario for moving a set of user files to a faster or more capable server, for example.

Using native DFS tools, we would have had to change those directories' targets one at a time, but StorageX has a powerful command that achieves the same result with a couple of strokes. Back at our client PC we repeated the same network command, which this time opened up the new share. This feature alone can quickly repay the moderate cost of StorageX by saving administrators repetitive, error-prone manual activities.

The combination of DFS and StorageX can simplify managing user files for your Windows environment regardless of the storage medium used. If you plan adding more volumes or storage appliances to your Windows servers, don't forget to save room in your budget for StorageX.

NuView StorageX 1.0

Business Case: This affordable storage management solution simplifies administration of networked user files in a complex Windows environment and its flexible approach minimises service interruptions.Technology Case: Based on and requiring Windows DFS (Distributed File System), StorageX can manage storage on domain-based or standalone servers.

Pros:

+ Easy to use

+ Simplifies shares administration

+ Offers good reporting tools

+ Integrates seamlessly with WindowsCons:

- Limited support for client configurationCost: $995 per server; annual maintenance is 20 per cent of list pricePlatform(s): Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, or Windows XP serverNuView does not have any Australian distributors, but StorageX 1.0 downloads are available onlinewww.nuview.com


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