NFS Connectivity Hums Along with Maestro 6.1

Hands On: Hummingbird's NFS Maestro 6.1

Any company faced with integrating Unix and Windows NT systems faces many hurdles -- not the least of which is the problem of sharing files between the two platforms. As enterprises run Web servers and backend databases on nimble Unix clusters, the need to access and manipulate HTML documents and database servers from Windows NT-based PCs becomes increasingly important. Fortunately, the current generation of Network File System (NFS) tools are high-performance, stable cross platform software solutions. One of the leaders in delivering NFS support to the Windows NT environment is Hummingbird Communication’s NFS Maestro 6.1.

Like many Windows NT/Unix integration packages, Maestro supplies an entire toolbox of system administration, host and printer management and other TCP/IP tools. But the power of NFS Maestro is in its NFS client, which performs impressively and provides the stability administrators have become accustomed to in the native Windows NT file system.

We tested Maestro by installing it on an Intel-based, 233MHz Windows NT 4.0 server running service pack 3. Once installed and configured, Maestro provides an integrated approach to browsing NFS exports. By looking in Windows NT’s Network Neighborhood, we used the "Entire Network" panel to discover and map drives to our NFS system. Once mapped, the properties dialog allowed us to see group and user information plus other details of the connection. NFS Maestro doesn’t require that you use the Network Neighborhood to establish connections. We were able to create and delete mappings using the command line, Windows NT Explorer and through a script using the Windows Scripting Host.

Compared with other NFS implementations, we found that Hummingbird has done a superior job of implementing fundamental file system features. The NFS Client Configuration tool, while not suited for novice administrators, is well thought out and collects all the options needed for NFS Client management. We were impressed by the way Maestro provides support for underlying services, such as process and user authentication, directory caching, Unix to DOS file conversion and NIS mappings. Windows NT system administrators will appreciate that Maestro integrates its NFS features directly into the Windows NT shell.

NFS Maestro’s integration into the shell is particularly impressive. Once mounted, a file on a NFS exported drive can have its ownership, permission and other attributes managed by using the properties menu in Windows NT Explorer. This integration is seamless to the user: A feature that system administrators, weary of showing end users how to use "foreign" file systems, are sure to appreciate.

Administrators will also appreciate Hummingbird’s approach to authentication. In common configurations an authentication process runs on a server and grants or denies access to NFS servers by comparing username and password combinations to a database of authorized users. The daemon usually shipped with Unix systems, pcnfsd, is adequate in many implementations, but Hummingbird ships its own version that supports 16-bit group IDs and 32-bit file locking -- features not found in stock versions of pcnfsd.

This newest release sports a Java-based remote application management system to replace Maestro’s older Rconfig tool. Called Jconfig, this important addition allows any network administrator to manage the network from any Java-capable browser. We found Jconfig to be slow to load on Internet Explorer 4.01, but once loaded the tools performed admirably and allowed us to connect to the administrative console from a workstation in another network. Besides using Jconfig to manage the file system settings at our Windows NT Server, we also needed to change the configuration of the Exceed and Explorer products.

No look at a NFS tool would be complete without mentioning performance. In the past, NFS applications were hamstrung because of limitations in the design of NFS. The current release of NFS overcomes many of these limitations and makes it possible for enterprises to consider NFS as a solution in cases where, a year ago, it might have been ignored because of performance problems.

We had a chance to install and evaluate both 6.0 and 6.1 versions of the NFS Maestro client and the difference was obvious. In a test that moved large, complex directory structures between NFS-based shares and traditional Window NT file systems the performance improvement was about 25 percent. In older implementations of NFS there is a distinct pause as Windows NT systems perform the overhead needed to access NFS-based services. Remarkably, when using version 6.1 of NFS Maestro end users were unable to tell the difference in speed between accessing NFS-based logical drives and traditional Windows NT mapped drives.

Performance, ease-of-implementation, and the Jconfig tool place Hummingbird’s NFS Maestro apart from the competition. While many Windows NT administrators will welcome its Unix integration features, we think the maturity and performance of the product may lead to the day where NFS is a basic part of every Windows NT administrator’s arsenal.

NFS Maestro 6.1
Hummingbird Communications Ltd.
North York, Ontario, Canada
(416) 496-2200
www.hummingbird.com
Price: $395
Quantity pricing for 100+ licenses $281
Site licenses are available

+ Substantial improvement in ease-of-use and performance over previous versions
+ Excellent integration with the Windows NT shell
+ NFS authentication and security features are superior
+ Incorporates Jconfig, a Java-based remote management tool

- Jconfig tool is slow to load
- Large installation footprint
- Client configuration tools are complete but very complex