One feature that has shown up in some applications and widgets lately has gained some traction internally. That is the concept of peer to peer sharing of disk space without going through all the pain of getting things approved and formally set up. The general idea is this one.
I want to share U:\SharedStuff\ApacheGroup\ to five other users. U: is my home directory, which is actually map-rooted so I don't see the top level directory. So I go to a web page and tell it I want to share this directory, to these people, for this long. Go.
It struck me that this sort of thing can be engineered with NetWare and OES. The key components are eDirectory, NSS, and NetStorage.
The web server takes the request and translates $Path into a real path by referencing the HomeDirectory attribute of the user who requested the share. Then, using LDAP it creates two objects:A Group Object
A Storage Location Object
- Created and named dynamically
- [AuxClass] Attribute with user-defined name
- [AuxClass] Attribute with the creator
- [AuxClass] Attribute with the expiry date
- Since this is eDirectory, group memberships apply immediately rather than taking a logout/login cycle to refresh the access token like in MS networks.
- Created & named dynamically
- Associated to the created group
- Assigned to the specified users
- This allows the share to show up in NetStorage
The web server sends a request to a file daemon that handles the actual trustee assignment.
There is a small constellation of maintenance tasks that also need to be created, such as a janitor process to deal with expirations, a helpdesk view to track who has what shares, a historic view to see what shares got deleted recently that suddenly need to be back RIGHT NOW, something to interface this with whatever disk or directory quota systems are in use.
The use of NetStorage allows WebDAV to be used as an access method, which allows the shares to be seen. The really brave may be able to leverage DFS to create actual directory structures reflecting the shares in the actual directories so drive mappings can be used; unfortunately I have no idea if a DFS database that large is a good idea.
Users would love this. No need to go through management to get a directory set up on the shared space. You just set up and go. Great for adhoc groups, or small private gatherings.
Unfortunately, this sort of share model is one that a lot of sys-admins are familiar with. If you've ever had a chance to examine the network of a small business with under 15 users, all of whom call themselves 'not that good with computers', you know what I'm talking about. This model of sharing is the one that Windows for Workgroups was designed for, and is still the default mode for plain old WinXP. Excessive use of peer to peer sharing like that can lead to one unholy mess, especially if a key person leaves (or in the case of the Windows example, one hard drive crashes hard).
If left unchecked, you can get whole business processes designed with the assumption that [username] will never retire. That already happens to an alarming extent, but this would make the dependency more invisible to those of us charged with making it all work again when it breaks. You can have shared spaces that are business critical to the company living 100% inside a user's self-managed space, and vulnerable to deletion on termination of that employee.
This is all part of the balance we as system administrators have to keep between end user functionality, and data protection. Desktop techs fight a constant battle to get users to save data on the server where it is backed up, and Novell puts out things like iFolder to help that whole thing become more invisible. We created shared directories to draw a big line between 'my stuff' and 'us stuff'.
That said, data-access habits are changing all the time. My own boss prefers to email a 150KB Excel spreadsheet to all of us, even though all of us have ready access a shared directory setup just for that. SharePoint integrates with Office to make the web-server look like a file-server. We still have to adapt with the times.
User-directed sharing is something I can see as highly desirable among the student population and faculty as well. Among staff, I'm less sure its a good idea outside of the 'trivial' personal use we're allowed.