Looking at Novell Filr

I know that Novell isn’t exactly on top of the world of IT right now, but they have released some really interesting technology recently and I’m pretty pumped to be able to look at them right now for Martin Luther College.

Novell advertises Filr like this:

Feels like Dropbox. Acts like Fort Knox.

I think that just about sums up the idea behind the whole product. It is their replacement for iFolder (another older Novell product) as a way for users to have access to their files stored behind a firewall wherever they are. It syncs much like Dropbox (caching the files on each individual device and then syncing the changes back up), which is great for people (like faculty and staff) who do work outside of the confines of the campus’ network.

It also allows sharing of files both internally to the campus and externally with others, which is pretty cool too. Filr also allows commenting on files which can be useful for collaboration.

It all sounds great, but will it work as well as it sounds? I don’t know, but I want to be able to find out.

My ultimate goal would be to offer all students a “Dropbox-like” experience with their files. That would mean 2 GB of storage on our network file servers (also looking at upgrading to Open Enterprise Server 11 … sometimes my job can be fun) which can be accessed through the Filr client very similar to how Dropbox does it. They would also have access their files on their mobile device through the use of apps like Novell Filr for iOS.

That’s an almost 10-fold increase in storage space than now and a much better way for students, faculty, and staff to access those files from whichever device they prefer. That all sounds great!

Issue #1 with all of that would be storage space. With about 1000 active students any given semester, you are talking about 2 TB minimum to be able to offer anything like that for just the students. Add in 200+ faculty and staff into the mix and you then have a storage issue when, for the moment, you only have around 1 TB of storage total.

Issue #2 is one of backups. For example, if we have 6 TB of total storage (2 GB/student and 20 GB/faculty or staff), then you are far outstripping our current maximum single-tape storage capacity (we are switching to an LTO-5 tape drive later this week with 1.6 TB of native storage capacity and 3.2 TB compressed capacity). For a long while we would probably be fine as people start using the new capacity more and more, but in the future we would need a way to backup a total of 6 TB of space … and what if they need/want more in the future!? It is another thing to think about.

Issue #3 is serving those files offsite. Because Filr would be pumping out files into the world over our fiber line and then taking in those same synced file transfers, you would need to be prepared to have a big pipe standing by to handle that. Luckily, it looks like we will be having fiber run to our server room this year which will give us 200/200 access. A huge upgrade from our 50/10 we currently have.

Issue #4 is time. We need time to test things, find out how everything works, do training, test some more, do some more training and then get the word out there … after we deploy! It is going to take time, but I think it will be worth it.

More will pop up, but none of these are insurmountable AND it would start to move us toward a “mobile first” mentality. People want to be able to work wherever they are on whatever device they might have at the time. Novell is trying to meet that need with many of their offerings (looking at the new iPrint appliance as well).

I don’t want the future to be the “wild west of information technology” as many see in the future, but that means that we need to change how and why we make decisions in the server room. I’m happy to see Novell moving in that direction and am excited to see where it might lead.

16 thoughts on “Looking at Novell Filr”

  1. Let me know what you think of Filr. I’ve been wanting to eval it but without a pre-existing Novell environment it’s more work than it used to be for me. I think you could use Novell Storage Manager to move stale data to low cost storage (some big mirrored near-line drives for instance). That might help with some of the storage problems.

    We should talk backups some time.

    1. I will definitely let you know what I think of Filr. There are some really cool things coming out of Novell and SUSE right now and I’m pretty sure I want to be along for the ride. The OES 11 transition is going to be the biggest one right now, but I think we will make it once I get some more testing done.

  2. Hi guys, here’s my input on this. I’ve been testing all dropbox-like on-premise storage solutions that I could find for my hosting business and Novell Filr is the only solution that works in my opinion. The other ones like Tonido FileCloud and Gladinet are just not ready yet. Tonido looks very promising but doens’t work with my AD well enough and it doesnt synchronize my network folders to the desktop client.

    Filr connects to my current AD infrastructure and my current Windows file servers. The desktop client and mobile clients work well and the features are more advanced than with the others. The support through the Novell forum has also been very helpful in my testing stages.

  3. Thanks for chiming in! Right now my steps are to get our OES 11 infrastructure in place and working (still running NetWare 6.5 servers here) and then to get a Filr test in place so that we can see if it will work for smaller numbers of users (we have a small number of people who spend almost no time in-office … this would be huge for them).

  4. Bob, FYI…we’ve worked with a lot of educational customers who’ve deployed Filr, and most of them are not provisioning the Personal Storage. Here’s why:

    Most of them (school districts, colleges, etc.) already provide a Home directory to the users on their existing file systems. These file systems are already being backed up, in most cases quotas have been implemented, so this space is already managed. If you choose not to provide Personal Storage and the users have the Home directory attribute set properly, then when they login to Filr and access My Files, they will simply end up in their existing Home directory!

    They can still share, comment on, and access the files they’re already familiar with from all their devices. And from a backup perspective, it’s a heck of a lot easier to restore those existing directories than to worry about how the Filr appliance stores the files in its repository.

    Just an option to think about.

  5. That is what I am hoping to do as well. I’d like to use our existing setup as much as possible as use Filr as a “portal” into our file system. We have recruiters and professors already asking for a solution to access their files at home … this might just work.

  6. I stumbled across Filr while considering Varonis DatAnywhere. Have any of you looked into it? It seems to be much easier to find people who have tried or used DatAnywhere than Filr.

  7. Greg – There’s a bunch of solutions that offer similar solutions. Although I didn’t get to eval Filr much before I left my last job I would have total confidence in it. I administered iFolder a bit in my last job and Novell did a fine job supporting it. Was it a great product? No. But it filled a niche and Novell support was always awesome and always available…plus the community is very active. If you’re already a Novell customer it’s a no-brainer. If you’re not a Novell customer, take a serious look at it. Novell is doing some good stuff on top of Linux.

  8. I’ve just begun testing it and I’ve been very happy so far (except for the appliance not having a XenServer compatible option … I’ll continue to explore that). I’ve been extremely happy with the community around it as well as they have been more than willing to share their experiences.

    I’ll have more information as I play around with Filr some more, but I need to get my VM infrastructure settled down a little bit first.

  9. Interesting article Bob, I look forward to more updates. I would humbly suggest another solution to include in your analysis – Egnyte (www.egnyte.com).

    Considering the 4 issues you mentioned Egnyte is potentially a better and more complete option for you. I’m happy to provide more details but in general it is an Enterprise File Sharing platform with a unified Admin UI and user experience with the ability to service 100% of company/organization data.

    Egnyte’s philosophy is to consider all of a company’s files and divide them into 3 categories: Green, Yellow and Red data. Use the Cloud for Green, Cloud with Local Storage Sync for Yellow and On-Prem for Red.

    Green data are files you are comfortable having in a public cloud or small files where high volume access won’t impact bandwidth.

    Yellow data are large files (CAD, Video, PowerPoint, etc.) or where LAN-speed local access is important but where you also want to sync to a cloud for remote access. Good for cross-site collaboration, disaster recovery, bandwidth optimization and remote offices where bandwidth is limited or poor.

    Red data are files that will never be stored outside the firewall because of security/compliance or data sets that are so large they will never be moved. Egnyte enables remote access to these files without the files touching a cloud server. Also a government surveillance proof option (i.e. PRISM, MUSCULAR, etc.).

  10. Thanks for the recommendation Nate, but I think that the pricing model would keep us away from it for the moment. We have entitlements for Filr and no budget to be adding expenses. Sounds like a cool platform, though.

    1. Makes sense Bob, better to use what you already have. Thanks for taking a look. There is a 15-day free trial, if you ever feel like taking a closer look I would be interested in your feedback.

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