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University of Portland Accesses Personal and Network Folders with GroupDrive

  • October 01 2007, 1:00am EDT

REVIEWER: Jenny Walsh, director, Office of Web services.

BACKGROUND: The University of Portland is a Catholic university founded in 1901 in Portland, Oregon. The university is affiliated with the Congregation of Holy Cross. Devoted to a mission of teaching, faith and service, the university is committed to the liberal arts as the foundation of learning. Over 300 professors and 400 staff assist the university in offering a curriculum of arts, sciences, humanities and professional programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels to over 3,200 students in an environment that fosters development of the whole person.

HARDWARE PLATFORMS: HP BL20p G3 Blade servers, Microsoft Windows 2003 R2 server, standard edition, LeftHand Networks SAN Solution.

PROBLEM SOLVED: The installation and launch of GroupDrive enabled university members to remotely access personal and shared network folders on the university SAN. These folders store institutional and personal files. Connecting the SAN to GroupDrive has provided faculty, staff and students with increases in efficiency (e.g., reduction in number of files redundantly emailed to themselves) and opportunities to collaborate inter- and intra-departmentally and with peers outside the institution. Direct and/or remote secure file collaboration opportunities did not exist prior to the launch of GroupDrive.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Faculty, staff and students use GroupDrive via a secure university portal interface. Single sign-on authentication occurs at the portal login. Authenticated visitors access the GroupDrive application via a FileUP link on the portal home page. GroupDrive maps directly to an individual's personal share on the SAN and displays the folder and file structures found there. Once there, the customer can link to her department's network share. Files can be uploaded and downloaded, reorganized and renamed. The drives' folder structures may also be managed. Secure links to files may be sent via email so that file collaboration occurs. File owners can set time ranges and permission criteria for this linked file access by individuals both within and external to the campus community. We do not currently employ the client side application that GroupDrive offers because that is not an institutional need.

STRENGTHS: GroupDrive provides simple, direct, remote access to files stored on the SAN; easy-to-manage, internal and external community collaboration via QuickLink files or shared folders; file and folder management, including permission setting, link expiration dates and password protection; and an MS Explorer-like interface display that helps customers easily use with little training. From an administration perspective, customization is simple and easy. Product support has been responsive and thorough. There doesn't appear to be a better simple remote file access solution on the market in this price range.

WEAKNESSES: Most of GroupDrive's initial weaknesses have been overcome by close work with a responsive development/support staff and an extended testing period. The software was initially not configured to interact with Active Directory other than at the user level (i.e., not with groups). Active Directory change management was not dynamic and required data entry. File and identity security errors contributed significantly to the extended test period. We discovered that s ession IDs were not unique if two customers logged in at the same moment. There was also a flaw with how permissions to shared links worked, allowing customers to potentially access unshared files. Again, these specific weaknesses were resolved before launch by development. Currently, post-implementation, the most significant weakness that customers report is a long caching period immediately post login.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We examined three other products that were significantly more expensive and/or contained feature overkill. Our customer base wanted a simple solution for accessing files remotely and, as a small private university, we had price constraints that limited the amount we could spend to find a solution.

DELIVERABLES: GroupDrive allows remote access to files and folders on the university SAN. It facilitates the creation of links to those files.

VENDOR SUPPORT: The vendor provided excellent support for GroupDrive during testing, implementation and post-launch. The university works with a specific development/support technician which facilitates continuity and builds a working relationship. Communication with the company has been excellent.

DOCUMENTATION: Minimal documentation was provided. What was provided was fine for initial installation, because in many respects, the product is self-explanatory. However, issues with Active Directory integration and implementation in a diverse university environment went far beyond documentation topics. We relied heavily on technical support to fully install GroupDrive. The university produced its own end-user help documentation to assist faculty, students and staff with topics such as linking to shared drives and folder/file permission management.

GroupDrive Collaboration Suite
South River Technologies
179 Admiral Cochrane Drive, Suite 110
Annapolis, MD 21401
(410) 266-0667

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