"With four years of development under our belt since [team member Andrew Tridgell] first proposed a new Virtual File System (VFS) layer for Samba 3, we felt that we should create something we could show off to our users," said Samba Team member Jelmer Vernooij. "This is a preview aimed at allowing users, managers and developers to see how we have progressed and to invite feedback and support."
IT managers using Samba 3 should download TP4 and test it on non-mission critical servers, said Vernooij. The Samba Team is a group of about 30 developers from all over the world who contribute regularly to Samba.
Samba is a freeware program that allows users to access and use files, printers and other commonly shared resources on an intranet or the Internet. Samba 4 is being developed in parallel with the stable 3.0 series and emphasizes support for the Active Directory logon protocols used by Windows 2000 and above. There is currently no release date for Samba 4.
While the ultimate goal of Samba 4 -- to be an AD-compatible domain controller -- is still a ways away, there were several updates in TP4 ready for testing.
Those updates were addressed by Vernooij in a Samba mailing list email sent to subscribers on Wednesday:
- PKINIT support to Samba 4's [key distribution center] will allow, smart-card login to a Samba 4 domain. TP4 demonstrates this with static key files, but work will continue to enable actual hardware cards, he said.
- "Clustering support was always a design goal of Samba 4, and with TP4 we have the ctdb framework, a cluster-aware shared database," he said. This functionality allows Samba 4 to share a shared cluster file system with its clients. [Editor's note: This feature was presented for the first time at linux.conf.au as a "highly rigged demo," but Vernooij said users can expect to see this mature over the next few months.]
- Non-blocking and asynchronous I/O support. A longstanding goal for Samba 4, TP4 uses new Linux kernel features to implement event-driven asynchronous I/O. This makes Samba more efficient on systems where some data may not reside on a local disk, for example [hierarchical storage management] systems. This feature allows the kernel to handle reading the returned data from the disk and only notifies Samba when the data is ready for dispatch to the client.
- Samba's Web-management console, known as SWAT, is being revamped. In TP4 users will find a Web 2.0 style user interface, which is used to support a Web-based browser.
Eventually, Samba 4 should present IT managers with another choice for managing heterogeneous Linux/Windows server environments. "Samba 4 is striving far beyond being a file and print server," Samba's Andrew Bartlett told SearchOpenSource.com in an October interview. "The role of the AD-compatible domain controller is a key goal of the Samba 4 effort."
Alternatives to Samba include a bevy of AD/Linux server synching applications and ID management offerings from vendors like Centeris Inc., Centrify Inc. and Quest Software Inc. These applications share similarities with Samba -- Centeris even has Samba team member Gerald Carter on staff -- but they are aimed more at Microsoft Windows administrators with Linux boxes in their data centers who wish to continue to manage them with familiar Windows tools.