Toolbox: New Products for IT Professionals
This month’s tools include a free RAM disk emulator and a top-notch synchronization tool.
When speed is of the essence (and when is it not?), hard disk performance sometimes falls short. That’s one reason disk arrays are built with fast memory caching technology.
For smaller, simpler needs, there’s another way to get the performance boost of memory speed for file system access—the tried-and-true approach of a RAM disk. A RAM disk, or virtual RAM drive, is a block of memory that Windows treats like a locally attached hard drive.
Naturally, there are drawbacks to using memory as a hard disk. The biggest potential glitch is that it doesn’t persist through a power cycle. You’ll need to flush that cache to a “real” disk to keep the information written to memory, which could potentially eliminate the benefit of the speed increase. (This is where solid state disk technology is trying to fill the gap, by providing persistent, near-memory speed file system access.)
If you’re not worried about writing the information to disk across power cycles, or losing data isn’t an issue, a RAM disk might be just what you need. One free RAM disk solution is the Virtual RAM Drive Emulator from StarWind Software (starwindsoftware.com). The software is simple to install and use. Once installed, open the GUI, click add device, specify the size and choose whether to format and auto-mount the device when you start up your system.
Virtual RAM Drive Emulator supports a maximum size of 1024MB on your RAM disk. You can, however, have numerous RAM drives on your system at one time (assuming you have the RAM to do so). Once you’ve created the drive, Windows will automatically detect the new addition and prompt you for action. Once the drive is formatted (which is done automatically by default), you can use it like any other drive.
The emulator has a few other configuration options. You can set the local RAM disk device defaults for the size, format and auto-mount. You can also enable logging, set the logging verbosity, and specify the location of the log file, as well as choose to recreate on start up or just append to the current log. You can also set the default language, application skin and choose not to see the splash screen on start up. To remove (read “destroy”—remember, it’s all in memory) a RAM disk, you simply right-click and choose “Remove.”
So if you’re looking to put together a small, fast read-write file system cache, you might want to take a look dropping it in memory with a tool such as the free Virtual RAM Drive Emulator from StarWind Software.
StarWind Software RAM Disk Emulator
An always-active, change-based synchronization tool can help with redundancy and backup. GoodSyncPro, from Siber Systems (goodsync.com), is tailored toward the end user as well as the sys admin, and provides easy-to-use and accurate bi-directional or single-directional file synchronization.
When you launch it for the first time, it guides you through creating your first synchronization/backup job. Whether you’re creating a synchronization or backup job, you pick “left” and “right” folders. You can think of those as source and destination for backup or targets for synchronization. Basically, the difference between backup and synchronization is directionality: backup is one-way, synchronization is bi-directional.
GoodSync splits your tasks into Jobs in a tabbed interface within the main GUI, so it’s easy to jump between different jobs. You can also put the GUI into “mini-mode,” which gives you a small view of the active job status in the lower right of the desktop.
When creating a job, you can choose more than just your local file system or UNC path. GoodSync also gives you FTP, SecureFTP, WebDAV, Amazon S3 and WinMobile as potential locations for backup or synchronization. Once you pick your locations, click Analyze to see a current comparison between the two (which is also a good way to see if you’ve already copied a set of files to that location).
For larger sets of files and directories, GoodSync gives you different tree view options to filter the view. You can opt to see only changes, what’s included, all files on both sides, files that haven’t been synced before, errors, conflicts, files with the same length and different timestamps, among other options to help you both troubleshoot and determine what actions will be taken upon execution. After making any adjustments you need, click Sync to perform the action.
Other execution options include delete and copying from one side to another, left-to-right or right-to-left. If you want to take a closer look at a file, just right-click and use the context menu to open it with the default viewer. From the same context menu, you can also perform individual actions on a file similar to the bulk actions noted above.
Other program options include UI language, auto-start, logging levels and customization of the program used to compare files. You can also specify global file and folder filters, proxy information for external source/destinations, and an SMTP server to use for sending alert e-mails when enabled.
There are also a number of options you can specify after you create your task. You can change the synchronization direction, enable forced copy or verified copy, choose to move files, and enable propagation of file deletions. For backup jobs (one way-sync), you can also make the source read-only to ensure files aren’t modified. Another nice “insurance” policy built in to GoodSync is the option to save previous versions of deleted or replaced files. This way, you can roll back if you make a mistake. Also, if you’re worried about bandwidth between your synchronization locations, you can limit file copy speed to a specified KB/s maximum. For shoddy connections, you can also increase the retry count.
Within the job options, you can also specify job-specific exclusions and inclusions for files and folders and configure an auto synchronization schedule. GoodSync supports both “attended” (you have to be logged in) automation, as well as “unattended” execution (it will run at the specified time no matter what). Here you can also decide what you want the program to do for automatic resolution of file conflicts.
There are also a number of advanced options you may need for your environment or synchronization requirements. These include using a “safe-copy” via temporary files, copying the ACL security attributes of files, copying of locked files, and what to do with folder links (such as ignore, copy or drill down). Finally, you can specify an e-mail address to receive an e-mail alert with status and notification and error information.
The GoodSync Pro version runs $29.95 for a single license. The free/trial version of GoodSync is limited to three jobs and 100 files/folders in each job. It’s free for non-profits and limited to 30 days of use by the license for everyone else. The Enterprise version adds a number of administrative tidbits that you may find useful, such as command-line execution, integration with Active Directory, parameterized backup paths (that let you set the date) and premium support. The Enterprise edition only costs $10 more than the Pro, listing at $39.995 for a single license.
GoodSync Pro works on all workstation versions of Windows as well as Mac OS X. For server deployments, you’ll need to upgrade to GoodSync Server edition, which starts at $995 (with volume discounts available). There’s also a stand-alone version that requires no installation and can run from a USB key if you want to add it to your management tools thumb drive.
Greg Steen* is a technology professional, entrepreneur and enthusiast. He’s always on the hunt for new tools to help make operations, QA and development easier for the IT professional.*