Apr 042013

We have built an installation of ZendTo, which is an opensource system for transferring large files over the web written by Julian Field from University of Southampton, and used at Southampton, Essex and Imperial College.

uhfeSee http://fileexchange.herts.ac.uk/

The requirement for this system came from researchers who were trying to use email to move files larger than about 10MB, resulting in burst mailboxes or returned mail.

The deployment allowed us to test elements of the hybrid cloud approach. We used a Cloud Server from RackSpace and we were able to integrate it with our LDAP service over secureSSL. This was important because it served to demonstrate that we could use local authentication with external services and acted as proof of concept in the regard for a number of other University developments. In addition we were able to configure it to act with authority within our email domain, which has proved problematic with external servers in the past. The basic system, which uses the ubiquitous LAMP (linux-apache-mysql-php) stack, was straightforward to install, and only the integrations above proved in any way burdensome (mainly in identifying and co-opting the appropriate network or system administrator). We will publish a ‘what to look out for’ guide in due course.

ZendTo looks like a good in-house alternative to services such yousendit.com and mailbigfile.com. In the context of RDM requirements it mitigates the need for full shared file system in some cases, because the ‘shared area’ requested by a research group is often used only for transfer of data between collaborators. It has the advantage of automatically disposing of what is transitory data after a short period, and in our system the storage container is elastic, so that if we were to generate significant demand we could meet it.

Although we have talked about authentication, this is only needed for added value features; the system works perfectly well without the sender or recipient being logged in using an exchange of tokens via email (so long as one of them has an @herts.ac.uk email address). So the foremost advantage from an administration point of view is that external users do not need to be managed.

We are using a fully managed cloud server from RackSpace (~£1500/yr). This carries £65@month premium but is not really necessary for such a simple installation. RackSpace compares equitably on cost with Amazon Web Services but, based on prior experience, comes with a superior support offer. Because we choose not to use a Content Delivery Network, our data resides in a datacentre in London.

If you have an @herts.ac.uk address you are welcome to try the system, without logging in, to send files (or rather, ‘drop them off’). If you are external to the university you can also drop off files for pickup by university staff provided you know their email address. If you just want to try the system, please use it to drop off  files for rdmteam@herts.ac.uk.  We welcome feedback whilst we plan a sustainable service around this system.


Thanks again to Julian at http://zend.to for a great piece of kit.