Like many businesses, the computer environment where I work is mostly Windows-based; however, as more users opt for Macs at home, their desire to use a Mac at work seems to be trending up. There will come a time for many of us IT pros when it might be easier to just give the executive/marketing (etc.) department what it wants, as long as the environment doesn't become unmanageable. ExtremeZ-IP is a product that goes a long way toward filling those management gaps.

For this product review, my lab environment consisted of the following:

  • one domain controller (DC) running Windows Server 2003, Standard Edition
  • one HP Color LaserJet 2840 (LJ2840) multifunction printer installed on the server
  • one Mac desktop computer, running Mac OS X 10.5.8 with Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 and OpenOffice 3
  • one 100Mbps Ethernet switch

For a production environment, ExtremeZ-IP is supported on Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2003, Windows Storage Server, or a Windows-based network access server (NAS). You can also install ExtremeZ-IP on Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP Pro, or Windows XP Embedded-but this is only recommended for test environments. The minimum hardware recommendations are a Pentium 6 processor and 1GB of RAM.

After reviewing the ExtremeZ-IP website and documentation, I came up with a series of tests I wanted to use for my evaluation. I started by installing my server. To this, I added a shared folder containing additional folders, some with large movie files and other folders with a couple thousand images. I also installed the LJ2840 on the server. Next, I installed ExtremeZ-IP's 21-day trial software, which added the service ExtremeZ-IP File and Print for Macintosh, as well as two Apple Filing Protocol (AFP) volumes. (ExtremeZ-IP refers to its AFP shared folders as volumes.) The last step to get my server going was to install Windows Search on the server and add the new folder to the Windows Search indexing list. (ExtremeZ-IP uses the Windows Search indexes for its integration with the Spotlight search tool in OS X.)

Installing the ExtremeZ-IP application on the server couldn't be any easier; you just run the download and click Next until it finishes. You might want to bind the Mac to Active Directory (AD) through the Directory Utility, located on the Mac under \Applications\Utilities. This way, your users will be able to log on with the same AD credentials that they use everywhere else, and you won't have to manage a bunch of local accounts.

With ExtremeZ-IP comes an application to simplify access to shared volumes and printers. The application is called Zidget, and you can install it from http://:8081. Zidget must be installed per user or deployed with some type of network deployment tool. After it's installed by an administrator, any user can run the installation and will be given the option to add Zidget to his or her dashboard. Zidget gives users an easily accessible list of printers and ExtremeZ-IP volumes from the Mac dashboard. From the server, I was able to specify the PPD file (Mac printer driver) and create a shared printer using the ExtremeZ-IP application. Back at the Mac dashboard, from Zidget, I expanded the location where I knew the printer was located and double-clicked the printer to install. My test print job came out without any issues.

It was practically self-explanatory to create an AFP-shared volume from the ExtremeZ-IP administrative console. Likewise, I had no problem accessing the volume from Zidget or using the Connect to Server feature from the OS X Finder application by entering afp://192.168.1.222/ExtremeZ-IP-Share. (My server's IP address is 192.168.1.222, and the folder I was sharing was named ExtremeZ-IP-Share.) From this volume, I copied a single file of 526MB to the Mac in about 52 seconds. After re-mapping the same volume with SMB (i.e., smb://192.168.1.222/ExtremeZ-IP-Share), I copied the same 526MB file from the server to the Mac but this time in about 65 seconds. I tried a similar test with a folder containing about 7.6GB of images; again, the ExtremeZ-IP (AFP) source was faster: 33 minutes versus 38 minutes for the SMB share. One thing to keep in mind is that just because you use ExtremeZ-IP to create a volume doesn't mean you automatically have a corresponding SMB share. ExtremeZ-IP uses AFP to share folders-so if you want your Windows users to access the same share as your Mac users, you need to share the same folder again, but using the standard Windows sharing steps. Unless your Windows client computers are running AFP as a networking protocol, they won't be able to see or access the ExtremeZ-IP volumes.

In addition to performance improvements around file sharing, I tested the volume restriction capabilities of ExtremeZ-IP. In the volume settings, there are two attributes for controlling access: Volume is read-only and Allow guests to use this volume. You can also assign a password to the volume and limit the number of users. However, as with Windows SMB shares, the NTFS permissions are in effect and the most restrictive settings will apply. ExtremeZ-IP volumes must be on a drive formatted with NTFS.

A common problem with Mac/Windows integration in the past has been the way Macs have used resource forks to optimize the performance of documents containing objects such as images or just to store certain file attributes. The resource fork information is typically stored in a dot-underscore file and hidden to Mac users. Windows users can see these files and have been known to delete them for no particular reason. Of course, this creates a big mess for everyone. After multiple edits with Microsoft Word for Mac 2011, and searching the server, I didn't see any dot-underscore files in the ExtremeZ-IP volume I was accessing the document from-although the ExtremeZ-IP application on the server indicated that there were multiple resource forks. I tried the same thing with OpenOffice 3, and this time I could see that a resource fork file existed in the folder where the actual document was located when I viewed the directory from Windows. After I saved my changes, the resource fork was gone and the dot-underscore file disappeared.

Another common problem facing administrators of Mac/Windows integrated environments, especially when older versions of Windows are in use, is the incompatibility of naming options on the Mac versus the file naming option within Windows. For example, on a Mac, the slash character (i.e., /) can be used in a filename. ExtremeZ-IP gives administrators the ability to prevent Mac users from saving files with these characters or with exceptionally long filenames that might also cause problems with their Windows users, by disallowing the use of such characters or specific filename lengths in the volume filenames. Enabling this feature is as simple as checking a box and adjusting the ExtremeZ-IP application's Filename Policy options, as Figure 1 shows.

Figure 1: Applying filename restrictions in ExtremeZ-IP
Figure 1: Applying filename restrictions in ExtremeZ-IP
 

There's an option to apply the file naming policy to all volumes; alternatively, you can go to the specific volume's settings and enable the file naming policy there. After applying the default file naming policy and choosing the global option to apply the policy to all the volumes, I tested the settings back at the Mac and found that they had taken effect immediately.

One of the options when creating a share with ExtremeZ-IP is the ability to make the share compatible with the Mac's backup system, called Timemachine. To turn this feature on, you simply go into the particular volume's settings, select the Support Timemachine backup check box, and click OK. To test this feature, I turned on Timemachine support for one of the ExtremeZ-IP volumes and started a backup, using Timemachine from the Mac. After a few hours, the Mac's 100GB backup completed successfully. You'll probably want to limit this feature to non-file sharing volumes only, because turning on support for Timemachine also turns off search support.

With Windows Search (a free Microsoft download) installed on the ExtremeZ-IP server, the Mac's built-in Spotlight search tool can be used to search ExtremeZ-IP volumes. Just be sure to add the volume to the Windows Search indexing list on the ExtremeZ-IP server and search under Shares within Spotlight. When I tried this feature, Spotlight searched the Mac's hard drive and didn't give me the results I expected. But as soon as I selected the volume I meant to search, I received the expected results.

Another ExtremeZ-IP feature I tested was its version tracking/recovery of documents. Configuring Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) copies on the server and installing ExtremeZ-IP's ShadowConnect client software (downloaded from the server at http://:8081) lets Mac clients right-click files from an ExtremeZ-IP volume and choose to restore from previous versions. When restoring, you can choose an alternative location and not overwrite the existing version. You even get a preview screen of each version, as Figure 2 shows, so you can decide if it looks like the correct document before you choose to restore it. After some experimentation, I could tell that ExtremeZ-IP does its version tracking by comparing the VSS copies on the server-so the number of versions available to your end users will depend on how frequently you configure shadow copies to be created on the server and how often end users save their changes.

Figure 2: Using ExtremeZ-IP’s ShadowConnect software to restore files
Figure 2: Using ExtremeZ-IP’s ShadowConnect software to restore files

The one area where I had problems relates to using ExtremeZ-IP with a DFS share that I was trying to automatically mount on login. I wasn't able to consistently get the product to access a DFS link where the domain name was used in the name space (e.g., //example.com/dfs-root). I had no problems mapping to a server and folder within the DFS (e.g., afp://server.example.com/dfs-root). Also, at press time, DFS integration wasn't supported on Apple's most recent OS version, code-named Lion. I contacted an ExtremeZ-IP representative and learned that there are known issues with OS X 10.5 and that my problem was most likely that OS X wasn't unmounting correctly upon logging off. According to the representative, my problem would probably be resolved if I upgraded to OS X 10.6.

Overall, ExtremeZ-IP brings a lot to the table. The number of features the tool provides greatly simplifies the administrator's job of integrating Macs into a Windows server environment. In addition, tools such as Zidget and the performance gains of using AFP should go a long way toward making end users happy and more productive.

ExtremeZ-IP
PROS: Quick; easy to set up and manage; improves network performance and end-user experience
CONS: Problematic integration with DFS
RATING: 4.5 out of 5
PRICE: $1,995 for a 25-client server; $4,495 for a 100-client server
RECOMMENDATION: Anyone who needs to integrate Mac OS X clients with a Windows server environment should consider using ExtremeZ-IP.
CONTACT: GroupLogic • 703-528-1555 • www.grouplogic.com