PCs

The art of multiple Mac administration: FileWave

If your installation includes multiple Macs, you know how impractical it is to work on each separate Mac to keep it in tune. In this article, Larry Loeb introduces the management tool FileWave.

A single-user Mac can be enough of a challenge in file administration for most people. What about an installation that has multiple Macs? It's usually impractical for an administrator to work on each separate Mac to keep it in tune. In this article, I’ll take a look at a product from the folks at FileWave . The FileWave system is designed to help you administer multiple Macs. It requires the installation of a separate server, and administration and user (client) software.

The Repository Server
The FileWave Repository Server is an application that runs on a Power Mac. This Mac stores the files that are distributed to the users' computers as well as a database of the file distribution information. The hard disk has to be large enough to accommodate the software that will be distributed, along with 5 MB for the FileWave software itself. In addition, the Repository Server needs 6 MB of free RAM; higher RAM values may be needed for large numbers of users. A minimum of 1 MB of cache memory is also needed, as well as Mac OS 8.1 or higher. The Mac running the Repository Server may or may not be dedicated to this task, but it must be running at all times.

The FileWave Administrator
The FileWave Administrator is equipped with a system extension that lets you set up and control how the software in the Repository Server is distributed. While this Mac can double as a FileWave user (see below), it cannot be the Repository Server. However, it must meet the same general hardware requirements as the Repository Server. FileWave’s makers recommend that you use an external hard drive to install code destined for the Repository Server (which then distributes the software to the clients).

FileWave users are the clients that FileWave is designed to serve. These computers are equipped with a system extension that permits them to automatically receive files from the FileWave Repository Server. User Macs should have a 68020 (or higher) processor and be running System 7.1.2 or higher.

The Logon Server
Another part of the FileWave system is the Logon Server, a shared folder that contains a complete mirror image of the FileWave Repository Server's Data folder. This shared folder can reside on any AppleTalk Filing Protocol (AFP) compatible file server, such as Windows NT, Linux, or UNIX. The purpose of the Logon Server folder is to scale your software distributions. This implies that there may be multiple Logon Servers (each on a fairly short network path to the end user) in one overall system. In the distributed scenario, the FileWave Repository Server creates catalogs of files to download and the user copies the files from the Logon Server. The FileWave Replicator software synchronizes a copy of the Repository Server's Data folder to the Logon Server's Data folder. The Replicator uses 1 MB of disk space; however, the Logon Server it synchronizes needs as much disk space as the FileWave Repository Server.

The install
Installing the FileWave software is a bit of an art. Since no two installations will be alike, most salient features are customizable. Where the Logon Servers are located will change with the topology and use of the internal network. Under a two-tier simple distribution model, computers residing on the WAN link opposite the Repository Server would be updated individually, which would cause virtually the same traffic to be sent over the WAN link multiple times. Obviously, this arrangement depletes bandwidth and costs more than is necessary. Under a three-tier enterprise model, the same traffic moves across the WAN link just once as it travels from the Repository Server to the Logon Server. The FileWave user then gets the information needed from the Logon Server and does not have to load the Repository Server.

File distribution
File distribution using FileWave requires three basic steps:
  • ·        Creating a FileSet and copying into it the software to be distributed. This software can be of any type.
  • ·        Establishing the Target Locations on the users' hard drives where this software is to be installed.
  • ·        Associating a set of users with the information they need.

FileSet Magic is an application installed as part of the FileWave Administrator. It can be used on any Macintosh, not just the administrator machine. Mac OS 8.1 or higher is needed to run this puppy. FileSet Magic automates the process of FileSet creation by using a comparison scheme. First, it takes a snapshot of the hard drive. Next, you install the software to be distributed and configure it as necessary. FileSet Magic then creates a package, which takes a new snapshot and compares it to the original snapshot. FileSet Magic then determines what files were added or modified and their exact locations on the hard drive. Backup programs like Retrospect perform this function all the time.

There are some quirks, though. The hard drive on which you’re working should be named Administrator HD, the default for all FileWave-created FileSet templates. If you use this volume name, you’ll be able to distribute aliases to your users. Anyway, you next create what's called a package using FileSet Magic. Only one package should be associated with one application installation. FileSet Magic-generated packages need a special installer program to move onto the Repository Server. Drag-and-drop won’t work here, though you can build a package manually using the Finder.

FileWave uses Target Locations to specify where the software in the package will go. You can’t move a Target Location once you’ve created it. You can copy a Target Location to another folder by dragging it while holding down the Option key. Target Locations don’t overwrite folders of the same name in the same place on users' hard drives—only the files you’re delivering overwrite user-created files with the same name and location. Other files in folders are untouched. In general, folders aren't delivered to users. FileWave delivers only specific files associated with a specific location on the user's hard drive. That level of packaging ensures that the files end up in the correct place.

One of the best things this kind of system can do is to update mobile users (say, people with PowerBooks) automatically. When the user accesses the network (even from a dial-up connection), FileWave user software checks in with the Repository Server to see what the current version of the Server Model is. If they don’t match, FileWave brings the PowerBook up to date, even if many days have passed and many Server Models have been created. Cool beans.

Conclusion
Be aware that FileWave, like any other full-featured program, has a steep learning curve. However, I hear users say that it does indeed work for remote management of Macs. In future articles, I'll look at other management tools and see how they stack up.

Larry Loeb has 20 years of computer journalism experience. He was Consulting Editor at the late, lamented BYTE magazine, he launched WebWeek, he ran the online Macintosh section of BIX (the BYTE Information eXchange), and he wrote numerous articles for many major computer magazines. Recently, he also wrote a book on Secure Electronic Transactions, the protocol endorsed by MasterCard and Visa that allows merchants, cardholders, and banks to work together over the Internet. For banter, tips, and general screaming, send Larry an e-mail .

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.
1 comments
andreaskuhn
andreaskuhn

It think it would be great to write an updated article on the newest version ... even greater would be a comparison of nowadays Systems Lifecycle Management solutions available!