Using Midnight Commander to work with Amazon S3, OpenStack, DropBox, OneDrive and almost any other Cloud

Midnight Commander is probably the most popular command line file manager in the world, and certainly for Linux distros. Its design was initially inspired by the classic two pane interface that was found in Norton Commander which was a DOS file manager (for those who remember !).

One of the unsung features of the Midnight Commander (also available on other platforms including phones (I used to use this on my old Nokia N900) and windows and mac) is that it can connect to server over FTP.

This is interesting from a Storage Made Easy viewpoint as although SME providers a full suite of Linux tools, SME also provider protocol interoperability as part of its Cloud Gateway features. What is this I hear you ask ? Well, simply put, it enables files you have stored on public or private storage to be accessible over any of the protocols Storage Made Easy exposes ie FTP, FTPS, WebDav, S3, SFTP.

SME Protocol Gateway

Midnight Commander supports the FTP protocol which makes it easy to get direct access to any storage that is added to a SME Account using the SME FTP cloud protocol adaptor. To do this:

Choose the Left or Right option
Choose FTP link
Enter connection to SME as follows:

username:password@storagemadeeasy.com

or if you are using the SME EU Server:

username:password@eu.storagemadeeasy.com

Midnight Commander FTP

The net result is a very easy way to bring the cloud into the linux desktop integrated with tools you already know and use. This can be used with the SME Personal CLoud plan, Business Team, and on-site enterprise editions of the product.

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Storage Made Easy New feature: Access S3, DropBox, Google Drive and other Clouds from SFTP

Cloud Storage SFTP

Storage Made Easy have now made live a new SFTP protocol adaptor. SFTP is one of the two primary technologies for secure FTP networking, the other being FTPS, which Storage Made Easy already supports (along with FTP, WebDav, Secure WebDav and S3).

The primary reason we investigated implementing SFTP is due to a government POC in which access was required to secure AWSGov Cloud files from medical terminals. This was the primary requirement, but because Storage Made Easy works with almost any back-end Cloud. once added, it can be used as protocol gateway for any cloud mapped to an account, note that the Port is 2200

Below is an example of using the SFTP protocol to access a Storage Made Easy account using Transmit (a Mac App).

SFTP Dropbox

Once connected, all data and mapped clouds are accessible.

SFTP RackSpace Cloud Files

Access can also be done directly from the command line.

Mac sftp google drive

Once connected we can do an ls to get a file listing.

Mac SFTP

Once connected the view of the files is similar to our earlier UI view.

Mac SFTP S3

To find out more about the SME protocol gateway feature that is part of the SME solution please check out the below video.

SFTP Cloud files Access is available for Storage Made Easy IaaS or on-site users.

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WebDav the interoperable protocol for file and document access

WebDav is an acronym for Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning and can also be referred to as just plain old DAV.

WebDav is an extension of the HTTP protocol that was originally designed by Jim Whitehead from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1996 when he was working at the World Wide Web consortium and it later became an Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) standard.

WebDav was built as an interoperable standard to support remote collaborative authoring of Web sites and individual documents, as well as remote access to document based systems.

Today it It is the most popular network file-system protocol for use across the Internet, and although it has been integrated as a interoperable layer into many existing product implementations it is also notably missing as an interoperable API standard from many, such as DropBox, Google Drive, Amazon S3 and more.

The Storage Made Easy WebDav Gateway

SME provide a way to access any mapped cloud by secure WebDav irrespective of whether the underlying Cloud Supports the WebDav protocol natively. As WebDav is so well supported in many desktop and mobile Apps this means that Cloud Data can easily be integrated and accessible without having to move it to access the features of a particular Application that is WebDav enabled.

Connecting to WebDav Servers and Windows Shares

SME can also be configured to connect to servers that support the WebDav protocol. This use of WebDav from a SME perspective is using WebDav as a back end cloud to store data rather than exposing existing clouds to be accessible using the WebDav protocol.

Many existing NAS or SAN devices such as those as the NetGear ReadyNAS and the Synology devices range already provide WebDav as an access protocol to access data. Also existing web servers such as Apache can also be configured to use WebDav using the Mod Dav extension.

Many users of SME want to expose windows file shares and make them directly available through the SME service to all devices. The most appropriate and secure way to do this is not to expose such shares directly but to configure Microsoft Internet Information Server to expose these shares over WebDav.

Advantages of WebDav for Windows File Sharing

This has the following advantages:

Seamless integration with the IIS Manager

A secondary protocol provides a security DMZ with regards to direct access to windows shares

IIS WebDAV can be enabled at the site level, allowing IT administrators to restrict WebDAV access to specific sites on a server.

IIS WebDAV supports per-URL authoring rules, allowing administrators to specify custom WebDAV security settings on a per-URL basis. This fine-grained control gives administrators the ability to maintain one set of security settings for normal HTTP requests and a separate set of security settings for WebDAV.

IIS WebDAV supports both shared and exclusive locks to prevent lost updates due to overwrites

WebDAV supports secure connection as well. By enabling HTTPS over all WebDAV connections, security is fortified. SSL certificates can also be installed to increases security measures

Why WebDav as a Cloud Connector ?

WebDAV is an optimized protocol for document access over http. It is proven as being latency independent and is efficient over wide area networks especially in contrast to file protocols such as NFS and CIFS.

Using secure WebDAV ensures the data is encrypted during transmission and due to the optimizations that data is stored efficiently and quickly .

Why Not The Common Internet File System (CIFS)

CIFS is the standard way that windows users share files across corporate intranets and the Internet with a secure VPN connection.

To expose such shares directly to the internet or to other none windows PC’s it is needed to use a bridging technology. Samba is often used as such as technology. With Samba, the ports 139/tcp and 445/tcp are exposed over a public IP Address. Once this is done such shares are accessible.

The drawbacks of this are:

- The CIFS protocol used by Windows file sharing does not provide data encryption

The protocol itself is quite chatty.

No level of security indirection

CIFS is is an optimized protocol for access to data over a network that has been extended by VPN and has been used in this context by many companies for a long time. The disadvantage of this is that all devices have to support , be setup, and work with the VPN. preventing access by some devices and Apps and making Adhoc ‘on the fly’ access difficult.

Securing WebDav Servers

It is beyond the scope of this blog post to go into great detail on the steps required to secure WebDav servers but Microsoft has a very good guide on how to secure the IIS WebDav Service. This can be accessed at:

http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc778809%28v=ws.10%29.aspx

In addition to this you should note the following best practices:

Folder Permissions: Use non-anonymous authentication. Modify the NTFS permissions on the folder to only allow the access necessary to the users who require such access

Prevent File Execution: If you are only using WebDAV as a file store and not using it to display web pages, then execute permissions should be removed from that site or folder.

Apache WebDav servers can be configured to use LDAP authentication and also two factor authentication and any deployments should consider implementing these.

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Storage Made Easy made easy provides free WebDav access to Clouds that don’t support WebDav

We are now giving away 150MB of free WebDav access to mapped Clouds to all SME free accounts. This is enough to access around 300 documents on Mobile devices per month and is enough for the average use of WebDav into Clouds such as DropBox, Google Drive, SkyDrive etc.

If you want to access more than just pay a one time $5 fee and get access to 2GB per month of WebDav for the life of your use of our service. If you want unlimited use then just sign up to be a personal cloud or business cloud user.

Also, all free accounts feature 5GB free storage on Amazon S3 and the ability to add up to 3 other Clouds that you wish to access.

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New Storage Made Easy Google Chrome Cloud Unifier File Manager Extension

We’ve added a new Storage Made Easy Chrome extension to the Chrome Web Store. The sole function of this extension is to enable auto-login and launch of the SME Web File Manager for quick access.

The SME Web File Manager is a hierarchical file manager which makes it ideal to deal with large data set and also data from different on-premise or public cloud storage, which are unified in the file tree. A Storage Made Easy Account is needed but a free account can be signed up directly from the extension.

The reason for this extension was to make it a lot easier for users to be able to gain access to the Web Cloud File Manager for one of our business customers who had equipped their salesforce with Chromebook Pixel’s.

The Web File Manager enabled them to have a workflow which included editing and commenting of documents directly from the Chromebook on various clouds that they used which includes BaseCamp and Amazon S3.

The extension can also be used for securely sharing files which include setting passwords on files and/or time expiry.

The web file manager, from a single user perspective provides a very nice way to work with data between cloud providers and even collaborate with other people using Business Group WorkSpaces. For business users it provides a complete collaboration environment between user which includes files editing, file commenting, file versioning and file locking.

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How to password protect public cloud files for almost any public Cloud Storage

For over 2 years now we have had the Public Files page. When users sets a file public from any of the 35+ information Clouds they have mapped to their account then it is displayed on this public files page.  Users have always been able to make such files password protected by encrypting the files on upload through our platform, but we have had feedback that what users really wanted was the ability to have any files on this page password protected, whether they were uploaded as encrypted files or not.

We’ve now added this change to the service. To take advantage of it all that needs to be done is to assign a password to the public files page from your Cloud DashBoard after login to the web. This can be set under the “extended options” section (at the bottom of the DashBoard).

Password protect public files

Setting files to be public is easy, just right click on the file from the web and choose to make the file public:

Other desktop and mobile clients also enable files to be set as public, as in the Android example below:

Once files are set public they appear on the public files page that each user account has:

These files are also available as an RSS feed that can added to the foot of an email for example, or as a an iPhone App:

Once a file is then accessed when public file sharing is turned on then the user is redirected to a password page  when they try to access any file from the public files page:

This feature works across files from any Cloud and indeed Cloud Files from different clouds can be shared and protected from the same page in this way.

Business Cloud File Server users can take advantage of this or turn off file sharing completely for their users.

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Cloud File Manager for Windows Phone updated: Unify access to your Cloud Files

We recently updated The Windows Phone Cloud File Manager. Features include:

- Instant access to unified Cloud files anytime, anywhere direct from a WP7 device.

- Assign lengthy tasks and operations to the SME Platform Tasks Engine (PTE). Use your phone while tasks are completed in background. Check progress at anytime in cloud tasks.

- Manage multiple Clouds in a single view. Easily move files between different clouds, done in background.

- Advanced Cloud Search feature that can search for files across multiple clouds.

- Unique Cloud Clipboard feature enables file management from different clouds in batches, without downloading & then uploading.

- Unique Direct Upload uploads files from web directly, no need to download and then upload, just enter file address and our servers will upload it in background.

- Open files in the phone in Microsoft Office, MediaPlayer etc.

- Share and collaborate – share files to social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Windows Live, etc.), over email or with users groups.

- Record audio (even with screen locked), take notes and 2-way sync with chosen Cloud(s). No need for another recording App.

- 2-way sync pictures with different Clouds. Integrated with Pictures hub. Pictures can be uploaded (shared) directly from the hub.

We have seen a recent surge in business customers wanting to use the Windows Phone with our Cloud File Server SaaS and hosted hybrid appliance and expect this to continue with the recently announced windows phone business features.

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Integrating iAnnotate with Google Docs, Amazon S3, RackSpace, and other Clouds

The latest version of iAnnotate PDF, the iPad App that enables editing of PDF Documents, adds support for WebDav which means that you can use the SMEStorage ClouDav Protocol Adaptor, free with the iOS iSMEStorage App, to connect iAnnotate to many Clouds that it does not natively support. SMEStorage supports integration with more Storage and SaaS Clouds than any other service.

The steps to enable access to the Clouds mapped to your SMEStorage Account are simple:

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CloudDav is enabled with all Business Cloud File Server Accounts.

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Google Docs WebDav update

We made some changes to accommodate some issues with Google Docs with our CloudDav protocol Adaptor:

1. The first change relates to creating documents directly in Google Docs and then trying to open the files directly in Pages iWork (for example). Previously this failed as the file had a zero size, as the size is unknown until Google exports it. We fixed this. Now such files created directly in Google Docs will open correctly.

2. The second change related to saving files directly back to Google Docs when creating them in Pages (or other Keynote, Numbers). These would fail because pages tried to place a zero size file lock to test write access. Other Clouds allow this but Google Docs does not, and therefore Pages would report that the file could not be saved. This is also now resolved.

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Cloud Computing Use Case: Editing Google Docs, Office365 and DropBox files in iWork on the iPad

We recently did a roll out of our Cloud File Server service to a company of just under 150 people. The primary driver of this was federating data sources, governance and auditing of data, and the ability to edit files directly on iWork on the iPad.

For this use case we’ll concentrate on the latter, enabling ubiquitous document editing on the iPad using the Apple iWork product which encompasses Pages, Keynote and Numbers.

The company is a technology company in which different parts of the businesses use different Cloud Services. The core business admin and management uses Office365. Google Docs is used by the sales team, primarily as a way to share Google Docs files easily with their customers and prospects, whom they found to be predominately Google Docs users. DropBox is used by the tech team who like the ability to have replicated to all their code, tech papers etc instantly to any device.

Interestingly, whereas you would think this disparate use of similar Cloud storage services is an edge case, we find it is not. The storage vendor names may change, but the disparate number, of what appear to be, similar services remains.

When questioned about why they don’t use the other in-house services each team had a different USP as to why:

Tech Team: “With DropBox I don’t have to remember to bring my files. They are always with me”

Admin / Management: “Office365 works and Syncs with what I use like my Outlook task list and calendar”

Sales Team: “most of our customers use Google Apps, so sharing files with the Google Group we have setup for Sales is the best way to get new deals / propositions to them”

One thing this company has jointly bought into was iPad’s. They all used them and their preference was to use Apple iWork as their document editor as they liked it’s simplicity, ease of use, and WYSIWYG features. The problem was it did not work with any of their Cloud products.as it only supported iCloud, MobileMe and WebDav.

The company in question had already bought into the SME Cloud File Server. It enabled them to audit files above all the clouds they used and provide Organisation Shared folders that worked above a “set” of Clouds, giving them a single view on disparate resources.

As the SME Cloud File Server also supports a WebDav protocol adaptor above any Cloud, something we call CloudDav, then it became very easy for all the teams to create, load, edit, and save documents to either Google Docs, Office365, or DropBox.

The steps to achieve this were simple:

1. Launch Pages, Numbers or Keynote

2. Click the ‘+’ button and choose ‘Copy from Webdav’ (assume a doc is to be loaded)

3. Enter https://Webdav.smestorage.com as the server address and your smestorage username and password as authentication. This will then load the file tree and the clouds available to the account.

4. Tap on a document to load it and start editing

5. When finished just choose the “Copy to WebDAV” button and it will be saved.

In this way documents in Clouds not supported by iWork can be edited and saved.

 

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