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.