01 April 2003

Access to NAS

The Division is moving to using Network Attached Storage rather than individual hard disks, Zips and floppies.

The Division's Vision for Information and Communication Technologies is for a Virtual Campus: access to any service, at any time, from anywhere. Part of the solution is to provide Network Attached Storage, NAS, where staff and students can store their work and access it, securely, from their office, laboratory, teaching space, home or Internet café anywhere in the world.

There are a number of positive and negative aspects to moving from local and removable storage to more central storage of files. On the positive side:

  • Increased security and reliability is possible;
  • Files can be accessed easily from anywhere on the network
  • Backup is more likely to be done; and
  • Work can be separated from a particular machine, so if the computer becomes unavailable or is updated, work can continue with little interruption.

On the negative side:

  • Failure of the NAS, although less likely than failure of an individual computer, affects everyone;
  • Network outages prevent people from accessing their stores; and
  • Privacy concerns: the perception that storing files in a single place is more likely to provide opportunities for inappropriate access to data.

Student access to their dcenas resources from Building 10 labs is under investigation at the moment and it appears there is no barrier in place preventing students from accessing dcenas: there have been some network and protocol failures over the last week or so but in principle with the correct information students should have no trouble accessing network storage from Building 10. Some work is being done, both in the Division and in Client Services Division, to simplify the process and communicate the information on connecting to the service to students.

Unfortunately for our plans in relation to staff accessing their network storage from category A spaces, security concerns have led Client Services Division to remove this access. This means that for staff wishing to create their PowerPoint presentations in their office, and present them in Category A spaces, they must transfer their presentations to removable media like floppy diskette, Zip cartridge or CD R, take the media to the classroom and either load the files on to the local computer or run the presentation from the media.

Removable media drives are either of low capacity, unreliable, expensive or inconvenient to use: sometimes all of the above. The standard computer issued to the Division has a CD RW drive (for writing and sometimes rewriting to CD), but no floppy disk drive or Zip drive. While it is possible to purchase, at additional cost, such drives for the computers, the inconvenience and expense of the drives and media have led the industry generally to move away for using them.

There are a number of options available to us at the moment to facilitate staff access to their work from Category A spaces. It may be appropriate to provide for a number of these options to suit most staff affected. The options include:

  1. Convincing Client Services Division to reinstate access to network storage.

    Probably our best option, but may take some time to develop a system that satisfies CSD's security concerns. [Subsequently Client Services Division has reinstated access to home drives from Category A spaces: see the report.]
  2. Using CD R media to transfer files.

    Slow and less than intuitive.
  3. Providing Zip and floppy transfer stations throughout the Division.

    Inconvenient and a security risk, lack of network access ports, expensive.
  4. Providing more reliable and cheaper transportable media like USB Flash drives.

    Costly, although cheaper than floppies or Zips; access to USB ports in Category A spaces may be a problem; small devices more easily mislaid.
  5. Not upgrading computers for staff who rely on floppy or Zip access.

    Older machines are less reliable and efficient.
  6. FTP server for staff to transfer files to the local Category A computer

    Complex process requiring training for most staff.
  7. Developing a system that allows staff to use a browser to transfer files via HTTP

    Like the Division's public_documents service.
  8. Email files to own account, access from Category A spaces via Web Mail.

    More secure, provides a backup of the files as well. Works best with IMAP email services.
  9. Develop a 'drop-box' service for Category A spaces

    From UCSTAFF or SLIE-DOMAIN domains, staff could drop files into a 'drop box' that is visible but read-only from Category A spaces.

These options will be discussed with Client Services Division to see what can be done.

In order to provide for access to network storage from off-campus, some of these options will work, but the best solution would be to develop a facility for staff and students to be able to mount network storage wherever they are. Such technology exists (WebDAV, or Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning) and is part of the server software we currently run, but Client Services Division has concerns about the security of the system. The Division should investigate the introduction of WebDAV-based network file storage as a viable service for the Division to provide for staff and students.