Cloud storage

Let me preface this with the fact that I really dont like this term "Cloud". For me its just another Buzz word to reinvigorate something that really isnt that new.

For a while now the Dean has been on me to work on a good solution for file access for our iPads. Something that works well both on the iPad but also on the PC.

The simplest solution would be to tell everyone to go use Dropbox or something similar. However you then run into issues of our data/content living on someone else’s server. This never really bodes well with me. Some things should be kept in house.

So I started looking at solutions out there for this. It had to be accessible both from our work PC’s, from our iPads (and Android tablets), with being accessible from home a bonus.

My initial attempts were around simply setting up WebDAV folders on a IIS webserver. With its built in ability to leverage authentication from Active Directory, it seems like a great and easily solution. However it wasn’t to be.

Ever since Win 7 (there was a fix for Vista), Windows will not authenticate properly using Basic Authentication over HTTPS. The obvious solution for the work PCs was to use either Digest or Windows authentication. Problem: I’ve yet to find an iPad Office Suite that supports these. Yes, I could have used a separate WebDAV client on the iPad (WebNav Navigator worked), but again I couldn’t find an Office Suite that truly integrated back to a client. Apples own ‘Pages’ came close, but even then it’s methods of uploading had a lot to be desired. A lot of others work ok with Dropbox etc, but that’s not what we/I was after. The best Office Suite with WebDAV integration I found is Office2 HD from Bytes Squared. The applications ability to seamlessly work with files on a remote server is second to none. But guess what – it doesn’t work with either Digest or Windows authentication over WebDAV *sigh*.

So I had to go looking elsewhere. With Windows 7’s “broken” WebDAV support (yes, there are “fixes” but they are very hit and miss) I had to think about other solutions. I could have simply shared via SMB the folders from the IIS webserver but this simply adds another level of complexity that I wasn’t happy with. Also, all these configurations for IIS require each folder to be set up manually. Again we come back to the ‘more moving parts’ rule or something bound to go wrong.

I tried several other web-server based file management applications (including MS’s SharePoint, but don’t ask me about that experience…). However with WebDAV being broken, my choices became limited. Following some serious internet trawling I came across OwnCloud.

OwnCloud is an open-source “cloud” web file storage application that runs on Apache, PHP, and MySQL. It gives users a Web interface to manage versioning (history) and sharing amongst other users. File access is either via the web interface, WebDAV, or a local sync client. It seems to be the only open source application like it that supports its own local client as well.

Please note that I *hate* “sync” clients with a passion. Too many years of arguing with Windows ‘offline files’ I think. If there has ever been a weak link in the chain, its from this. But with my choices looking so limited; I continued on.

After a day of arguing, I got the application up and running. OwnCloud has a high dependency on specific PHP modules and you have to get them just right. Number one rule here is RTFM.

OwnCloud can also authenticate back to Active Directory, which again was an interesting experience setting up. However I managed to get it to talk to the University's Active Directory and limit access to just the Faculty. I always struggle with proper LDAP syntax.

We’re running the latest v4.0.0 of OwnCloud and although it has been released as a ‘stable’ version, there are still bugs to be had. For instance sharing amongst LDAP configured users doesn’t work yet (I’ve filed a bug report). The sync client is *very* finicky about time differences between the server and the client. And finally, some of the 3rd party plugins don’t work yet for version 4. EG, a plugin called 'Quota Bar' crashed the entire install.

However it is still the best product out there for what I wanted to achieve. From Office2 HD on the iPad, the WebDAV connection works flawlessly, and after some playing around with time settings on the server, the local sync clients seems to be behaving themselves both here on the local network, but also from home systems across the internet.

Things still to work on:

·         Sharing amongst users (can share with a group, but not individually)

·         File encryption on the server side (however we are at least running over HTTPS, even if it is with an ugly self-assigned certificate)

·         Finish re-branding the web interface. Done

·         I would like to be able to share files publically, so that users can email a link to a file to someone outside the organisation. Done

·         I need to look at back-up options, however it is currently running in  Virtual Machine and that entire Virtual Machine is already being backed up.

·         I also need to look at the Android side of things and work out the best solution for that platform.

UPDATE:

In regards to the ongoing issues with WebDav in Win7, I found a nifty little application that seems to work well and is free for personal use: 

http://www.netdrive.net/download.html

Samsung BlackJack-II

 

So Ive had a work phone for a while. A Samsung Blackjack-II.

Problem…..

No one actually calls me on it, and all it really does is take up space in my pocket.

But its such a great phone. So I decided to forward my work number to my personal number, and start using the Blackjack as my primary phone.

After a lot of fluffing around getting the Three SIM working, and then finding the right internet configuration settings, I finally got it working. So… now to play.

First step was to make better use of the built in GPS. The people over at MoDaCo have released a patch which unlocks the GPS and makes it available to any application you choose. It was then a simple of case of downloading and installing Google Maps Mobile, telling it to use the GPS directly and Bingo! We have google maps using a GPS. Noice!

Next on the list was the internet browser. The Blackjack comes with Windows Mobile 6 installed, and thus Internet Explorer. Now – IE isnt "horrible", but it doesnt scale pages, its slow, and well…. its IE. SO I did some research. I tried Opera  Mobile (didnt work), Opera Mini (runs in Java, cludgey, just didnt like it), and finally a browser I had never heard of before – SkyFire. Skyfire dont make a browser for anything else. Not for your PC, not for your Mac, and not for your Fridge. What Skyfire does do is gives you a very quick, smooth and stable internet experience, and its page zooming is sensational. What it doesnt do is announce to the web server thats its a mobile browser, so it picks up the enire "desktop" version of the site, then *it* handles the scaling. And it does a wonderful job of it. Facebook? check. Youtube? check. Twitter? check. etc etc… Cannot fault it.

Thats all ive had a chance to play with at this stage… more to follow.

IT for the Workplace

 

This summer semester ISE introduced a new unit called ITW (IT for the Workplace). It’s essentially aimed at non-IT students from other faculties.

It’s a brilliant idea.

The hope is to pass on some real-world IT skills to those who would normally not study IT. We cover all kinds of topics. From basic PC admin tasks, to setting up a website, using mobile technologies, basic image processing, using social networking and other web 2.0 tools… the list goes on. And we dont try and go into too much techy detail. Not everyone wants to know all the why’s and where for’s. Just "this is what it does, and this is how you use it!" Perfect.

Last week I gave the tutorial (my first tutorial ever) on basic imaging processing. I was very impressed how quickly people picked things up. I gathered very quickly not assume people are idiots. It was very easy to glance over really boring bits like "this is how you get to the control panel" or whatever. We covered using layers in Photoshop, Also using the "fountain pen" tool to create acturate selections, cutting them out to a new layer etc etc. The students found it really interesting and were quite eager to find out more or ask any questions and really get involved.

Very good.

This morning I gave a lecture (again, my first ever) on basic PC admin tasks. We cover andding and editing users, performance checking, and simple trouble shooting. We also covered things like finding and using support, and things like SLA’s. All up, people where very eager to get involved, and to be honest the lecture got a bit side tracked from time to time – but it was all informational and I think the students got a lot out of it.

On Thursday I’m lecturing on Open Source alternatives – should be good.

Welcome

 

Welcome to the ISE site of Jason Weber

This contains random information regarding myself and my involverment with UC and the Faculty of Information Sciences and Engineering.

Here I wear many, many hats…

 

Cheers,

Jase