Cheapest/Best solution for remote file access?
August 19, 2008 9:34 AM   Subscribe

I have a three person Mac OS X office where we need to have remote access to about 4GB of files. I have looked around extensively for a solution and so far have not found an acceptable one. We have tried to use Back to my Mac and Apple Remote Desktop but the other two users are not that technically adept and it seem too complicated for them. Out problem is further complicated by the fact that we sometimes access the same files, so we can have version problems as well. Back to my Mac has never worked period. Could I use Amazon S3 storage? And manage with Subversion or Git? Are there reasonable clients for Subversion and Git. Drobo with network card seem over the top and too costly. Having the files on the cloud would be a perfect solution, however a local solution that could be accessed from anywhere will work as well. To further complicate we are thinking of having one person access via PC.
posted by thinktwice to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Gmail has seven gigabytes of storage, and you can access it with gDisk. Don't know exactly how the PC person could access it, but I feel like it has to be possible.
posted by Rinku at 9:46 AM on August 19, 2008

gDisk doesn't seem to work anymore
posted by dcjd at 10:07 AM on August 19, 2008

Uh oh, my previous comment got munged because of unjudicious use of greater-than/less-than characters. Here it is demunged:

I've had a lot of trouble with this myself. I'm trying to make much bigger groups of files, from small < 1MB Word Docs to massive zipped DVDs available for remote download to XP, Vista and OS X clients. None of the users of these clients is very tech savvy.

I've been trying to make a pure WebDAV solution work, with varying degrees of success. I started out using IIS as my WebDAV server, but the WebDAV client included in OS X wasn't too happy with that. I switched to a Debian/Apache2.2 host which works better but we still have imperfect transfers for large files. Vista's WebDAV support was broken out of the box. SP1 addressed some of the issues but the WebDAV Mini Director is still pretty flaky. Some of these issues might stem from the fact that we only have a T1's worth of bandwidth in the office and we are also running VOIP, so if VOIP traffic is high, it could choke off a long download via WebDAV. Unfortunately the WebDAV clients embedded in the OSes don't do a very good job of showing you the status of your download, so if it fails, a less technically savvy user may not notice that all their files haven't arrived, or that a bunch of them are all zero bytes in size. On the plus side, if you only want to edit some reasonably sized Office files, you can use Office apps to open them directly from the WebDAV store, edit them and save directly back to the WebDAV store, as if it was any other drive. Office also helpfully locks the files for you so no one else can edit at the same time. Some other software will also work this way. Some Adobe stuff I think.

For Windows XP there are also some applications you can get that will make a WebDAV store look more like a standard drive to your file system and other applications that lack WebDAV support. Some of these applications don't work well with IIS but work well with Debian/Apache2.2 and vice versa. I've tried RedDrive (works with IIS, not so well with Debian, also apparently good for Amazon S3, not in active development but free, some technical hurdles to Vista install, a bit slow and clunky), Novell NetDrive (XP install ONLY, works very well with Debian but not IIS, available for free download, but actual license terms seem to require use with some other Novell licenses, not in active development but for XP client/Debian host is the best overall experience, Google for download), WebDrive (costs $$, I haven't tried it, but it is apparently based on NetDrive.

For OS X nothing like the above really exists outside of the included network drive client. AnyClient is a good LCD solution for a GUI FTP-like interface, and it is implemented in Java so both your OS X and Windows clients could be using the same interface. Cyberduck on OS X is also a good WebDAV/FTP/S3 client.

We haven't seen a lot of success, particularly for geographically distant Macs trying to transfer large (>50MB) files. We're moving to a coloc facility soon where we will have greater bandwidth and no internal VOIP to worry about which we're hoping will make this stuff viable. Until then, because the clients are better at recovering from timeouts and other issues (or at least reporting them to the user in an easy to understand way), FTP is turning out to be the most reliable way for us to share files remotely.

We have Subversion going for development work, but I'm not too keen on trying to teach non-techie people how to use TortoiseSVN, diff/merge and all that. On the Mac, there is SVNX, which is not integrated into Finder. There is also SCPlugin which is integrated into Finder and looks a lot like Tortoise, but may not be totally stable yet.
posted by rocketpup at 10:14 AM on August 19, 2008

Jungle Disk uses S3, & it has Mac & Windows clients.
posted by Pronoiac at 10:54 AM on August 19, 2008

I would highly recommend Dropbox. A free account currently tops out at 2GB, but they should be offering pay plans with more storage soon.

Their service syncs a folder and its contents over the internet between multiple computers, Mac or PC. It also allows you to selectively share files via URLs or by granting access to other Dropbox users.

The only drawback for myself is that it does not currently support Mac resource forks. This should not be a problem for most people.

Let me know if you would like an invite.
posted by the biscuit man at 12:10 PM on August 19, 2008

I looked at Dropbox myself, but dislike the idea of having my data on a server I don't have any control over. My own office setup is pretty simple - Ubuntu server, with an account using the same name / password as my MacBook. I shared a directory on the server. It shows up in the Finder as a shared drive. Double-click and it's open. Should be pretty simple to install Samba on the server and thus have it show up to Windows systems as well. Just make a shared directory, give everyone that should have access full read/write access rights, keeping current user name / password to keep things simple (when I did this, I made user accounts with a generic password, then had users SSH in once, at which point they were asked to change the password: Simple enough to do with you there to guide them, but without you needing to know the passwords).

If the server is on the network, and has a registered name, files are then accessible remotely as well. I like using SSHFS for access, which simplifies getting in remotely; SSHFS is available from Google Code here (MacFUSE and the SSHFS program must both be installed; SSHFS simply provides a GUI front-end to mount a drive over SSH). Unfortunately there is no Fuse for Windows.
posted by caution live frogs at 1:05 PM on August 19, 2008

I just ran across this: Mapping a network drive over SSH in Windows. It's for tunnelling a remote network share.
posted by Pronoiac at 12:53 PM on August 21, 2008

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