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Our small community college assigns each of our approximately 1000 students a personal My Documents folder that is an alias for a Windows server share (also mapped as their P: drive). Students access this from their computer lab accounts. For security reasons, this share is not accessible from our wireless network segment, nor from the public Internet.

Naturally, students would like to access their college files from their laptops and from home. Can anyone recommend a reasonably secure web-based storage system (open source or commercial) that could serve their shares from the Windows file server (Active Directory-managed accounts)?

To make it as simple to use as possible, an ideal system would feature a client that could mount the connection to the web-based storage as a virtual filesystem. A lightweight or Flash client to support drag 'n drop and multiple-file up/download would be an acceptable alternative. Do either of these exist?

I especially welcome comments from anyone who's tried this, especially for a large, transient group of users that have wildly varying levels of computer literacy.

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6 Answers 6

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It seems to me that a better solution would be to set up a VPN to handle the security side of things, then students would have all the access they are used to (if you want them to) in the way they are used to getting it. and it's simple to use from the end-user's point of view.

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Yes, we definitely want to go the VPN route eventually. I figured web-based storage would be a reasonable stop-gap in the interim, especially as web storage becomes more common and familiar to average users. –  yukondude Jun 3 '09 at 16:46
    
I am curious why you wouldn't choose to use a VPN from the start? There are excellent free solutions out there, and it would avoid the administrative & user-training issues of using a stop-gap solution. –  Brent Jun 3 '09 at 17:54
    
You may be right. I'll have to look into that. My experience with our current Cisco VPN solution has been hit and miss (fine from Linux but the Windows client seems flaky) and so I dismissed it as not ready for prime time yet. –  yukondude Jun 4 '09 at 1:22
    
Apparently the windows client IS flaky, if you don't have the latest one. Ensure your users are using the latest one. Also, we just switched to Cisco from OpenVPN, and I found OpenVPN to be slightly more stable, just as easy to use, but a little bit harder to configure each client. If you look into OpenVPN, you might want to look at the OpenVPN/CA plugin for webmin - it makes management a breeze. –  Brent Jun 4 '09 at 14:14
    
Thanks for the tip. I'll have a gander at OpenVPN. –  yukondude Jun 4 '09 at 17:45

I work at a mid sized University, and we also have MyStorage folders for our 30k users. We're using WebDAV. We know it is a dying protocol. That said we haven't found anything else that replicates its functionality as easily or cheaply. It does require IIS and another download from Microsoft. Here is some documentation that might get you pointed in the right direction. Installing and Configuring Webdav on IIS 7.0

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Agreed, WebDAV is a good strategy, however be advised that on the client side of things, you will run into a special flavor of the well-known "DLL hell." See these two pages: greenbytes.de/tech/webdav/webfolder-client-list.html greenbytes.de/tech/webdav/webdav-redirector-list.html –  Adam D'Amico Jun 3 '09 at 16:43

MS Sharepoint would probably be a good solution and would easily integrate with your existing AD server. It is secure, but not cheap. It does allow you to access the share either via HTTP/S or mapping it to a drive letter(I believe this function uses WebDAV as David posted).

http://sharepoint.microsoft.com/Pages/Default.aspx

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Sharepoint is free with Windows 2003 server. If they're already running on Windows, this is a no cost solution. –  Kevin Kuphal Jun 3 '09 at 16:49
    
Also should be noted that Sharepoint does not store documents on the filesystem but in the database so the requirement to make existing shares web accessible would not be solved by using Sharepoint –  Kevin Kuphal Jun 3 '09 at 16:52

Since you are planning long term to go VPN, I assume you'd like this to be cheap?

As a thought, you could use basic IIS, using SSL and just put the users folder on the internet and allow directory browsing? The IIS would check the permissions and only allow access to the files based on AD file permissions that are already there (think no more configuration then you do now) Since you us SSL with it, its atleast secure.

The big downside, is its one way only, to the students could read/download the files, but then when they change them they cannot put them back on the network until they plug back in.

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We used to have almost exactly what you described, but I think to be valuable, we need that upload facility. –  yukondude Jun 4 '09 at 1:24

try www.alfresco.com, it will cost something (you can add AD with additiona US 500), but this is something we are doing now for large number of users

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WebDAV springs to mind. Not sure how you'd implement that on Windows. I suspect IIS is involved somewhere.

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