Bridge Windows and UNIX Networks With Andrew

Yes Grasshopper, there are tools to ease the toil of administering
large-scale filesystems. So many demands: ease of use, stability,
speed, flexibility, mobile users, security, and all too often last on
the list, ease of administration. AFS meets all of these goals.

AFS stands for Andrew File System. It was originally developed at
Carnegie-Mellon University in the early 1980’s, to meet the needs of
serving many different departments, students, and faculty. It was
named to honor the university’s founder. The Transarc Corp. marketed
it, then IBM bought Transarc in 1994. In 2000 IBM forked the code,
releasing a free version, OpenAFS, and continues to sell and support
their own commercial version. Both versions are actively
maintained. IBM contributes to, but does not control or provide
technical support for OpenAFS. (Officially, it is now simply AFS, not
Andrew File System.)

OpenAFS is released under the CPL, IBM’s Common Public License,
formerly the IPL, IBM Public License. The CPL is an Open Source
Initiative-compatible license, but is not GPL compatible. (Hobby idea for
people with time on their hands: collect and index all available
software licenses. Should keep you busy for a few months.)

AFS Speaks Volumes
Anyone who has ever struggled with editing /etc/fstab and mounting
filesystems for NFS, or mapping herds of drive letters in Windows,
should appreciate the elegance of AFS’ design. It manages volumes, so
users do not need to worry about the physical locations of files. It
follows the client/server model: servers deliver files to client
machines, so the admin doesn’t need to learn any weirdo newfangled
organizational concepts. And it does it in such a lovely way. A
volume location database tracks the physical file and directory
locations. User requests file, database locates it. No muss, no fuss.

Volumes reside on physical or logical partitions that are mounted
on the AFS server. Each volume is independent of the others, and can
be moved while in use, enabling load balancing and resource
management. Copy and distribute heavily-used files over several
servers. The client machines can even be directed to certain servers
that you specify. This is more work than letting the volume location
database answer client requests, but it is another way to manage

My favorite feature of volume managers is being able to resize
volumes without endangering the data. No need to agonize over
partition sizes and types on when installing the operating system- if
you don’t get it just right, no problem, AFS lets you do whatever you
want. AFS can be used in conjunction with the Linux Volume Manager for
even finer-grained and more flexible volume management.

Higher Than Root
Instead of managing far-flung files as relative to the user’s local
filesystem, AFS mounts its filesystems in a single namespace, /afs,
which is “higher” than the root filesystems on the client PCs. Client
PCs need only mount a single directory, /afs. Is that genius or what?

“The network is the computer”- this is more true than ever. Now we
have powerful machines in both the server room and on the
desktop. This is a whole lot of largely under-utilized power. AFS
takes advantage of this abundance by caching server data on the client
machines, and moving most of the computational work to the client. The
cache is persistent, surviving power failures and reboots. Quite dandy
for mobile users, who may connect via dialup, download application
binaries and data files, then work offline. It is conservative of
network resources, and because the user does not need a constant
connection to the server, adds fault-tolerance. No need to heed the
wails of despair- “The network is down!” No more excuses to not finish

AFS uses Kerberos for authentication and data security, and ACLs
(access control lists) to manage directory privileges. Any user can
create an AFS group, and assign users and privileges. In my world that
is far better than pestering the sysadmin for such mundane chores.

Cells and Sites
Volumes are divided into cells and sites. A cell is a user group:
perhaps a department, or a project group, whatever you need, and the
client machines and servers for that group. An AFS site is a grouping
of cells. The cell that you belong to is your local cell. All the
others are foreign cells. Sounds rather Spy v. Spy, but there it is.

Each cell organizes and maintains its own filespace. Cells can
connect to filespaces in other cells, and share files with each
other. Volume quotas, of course, can be set on users. Can’t have them
cluttering up your nice servers with all kinds of stuff. Adding new
users, cells, and servers is relatively simple.

User Stuff
Editing and saving files is easy as pie. Users can save as they go, in
the usual fashion, and changes will be recorded on their local
disk. Changes are not stored back on the server until the file is
closed. No extra steps are needed. If there are multiple copies of the
file in the AFS system, AFS updates all of them.

One thing it does not do is magically enable seamless
collaboration on the same file. The last save overwrites all previous
saves, like any filesystem. ACLs can be tweaked to protect your own
directories, in addition to setting the usual permissions on
individual files.

Installation and the initial setup are complex and
time-consuming. After all, you’re installing an entirely new
filesystem. AFS runs on most UNIXes, and Windows. AFS must be either
compiled into the kernel of every UNIX server and client machine, or
loaded as a module. Windows installation employs the usual setup.exe,
plus some system files must be added manually. The instructions are
very detailed, do what they say and you’ll be fine. The one problem is
they are written for the commercial version, which comes on CD. The
free version is available only as a download- be sure to use the
included READMEs and instructions. Here’s one gotcha I learned the
hard way: on Linux, the AFS cache must be in ext2. Otherwise use any
filesystem you like- ext3, ReiserFS, etc.

Gentoo Linux, the hot new Linux kid on the block, has a wonderful page
on building an AFS server. Gentoo has a slick installation and package
management system, and excellent instructions, this is one good way to
build your first AFS server.

Gentoo Linux AFS
Free Software Foundation compatible licenses
Open Source Initiative compatible licenses


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Carla Shroder

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