Three Platforms, One Server Part 6: More Windows Quota Problems

Of course I knew it was too good to be true. I've found the first fatal flaw in my plan to unify authentication on the internal network. It goes back to the Windows quotas problem I studied some time ago, and to which I'd thought I'd found a solution.

I won't go into great detail about the problems and various solutions to the Windows roaming profile issue. I've already written plenty on it, and the previous posts outline it all fairly well. I will say that the intended solution was to provide Windows roaming profile quotas by setting them locally on each workstation. But, last week, as we moved forward with the plan, one of my fellow sysadmins, who is far more capable with Windows than I happen to be, pointed out the fact that certain applications (i.e. Photoshop, Maya, etc.) need a certain amount of disk space for temp files and what-not in order to operate. Setting small local quotas effectively keeps these applications from running properly.

We are currently testing a few other scenarios in which quotas for Windows roaming profiles can be implemented to our satisfaction:

  1. The Authentication Server (Mac OS X Server 10.4.6) has a separate volume for Windows roaming profile storage and that drive has quotas enabled (this was the original plan). The drawback to this is that the user's home account data is stored separately for Mac and Linux — which keep this data on the home account server — than for Windows, which would store this data on a reserved volume. The other drawback is the fact that the client machine is not aware of the quotas until the user logs out and the Windows client attempts to upload the new data, at which point Windows issues an error if the user has exceeded his quota. But the user is not warned about quota violations until logout, and this could cause some minor problems.
  2. The Windows Server continues to host roaming profiles and determine quotas for Windows users, but gets user authentication information through a connection to our Mac Authentication Server. The drawback here is that we have to continue using the Windows Server, which we don't really want to do, though it does seem to give us a slightly higher level of control than does the Mac Server. This method is also complicated by the fact that we are currently running Windows Server 2000, which does not include native authentication to LDAP, so third-party solutions would be required. This method could also complicate user creation.
  3. Through some combination of Windows and Mac Servers, we convince the Windows roaming profiles to be situated on the Temp volume of the local workstations, rather than the default location on the "C" drive in the "Documents and Settings" folder, and then set quotas for the Temp volume. I'm skeptical that this is even possible. Windows seems to be hard-coded in ways that make specifying the location of roaming profiles anywhere other than "C:\Documents and Settings" impossible. So this last option seems the least likely to succeed, though if it did it would match the way Mac and Linux behave much more closely. And if we could figure out how to do this without the Windows server, it would be almost ideal.

(Actually, I just thought of a problem with this last method: The Windows Temp drives get erased every Friday. If users happen to be working during the deletion period, what happens to their roaming profiles? The same thing happens on the Mac, but the deletion script on Mac does not delete work owned by the currently logged in user. Can such a scenario be implemented on Windows?)

Most likely we will go with the first solution. We already know that it works. It's a little extra effort when creating new users, but that's totally scriptable. We plan to do user creation from a single script from now on anyway, so these extra few steps, once incorporated into our user creation script, won't really be a big deal at all. The only other problem with this is that our replica will now need to sync the Windows roaming profile volume as well if it's to work as a proper fallback system. This, too, should not be terribly difficult to accomplish. Overall, this solution is less elegant than the original one, but it should be workable. Hopefully, Windows Vista will mitigate a lot of these problems. (Yes, that was totally a joke. Please chuckle softly to yourself and move on.)

I guess what amazes me still is how contrary to other operating systems the Windows OS is. Everything we're doing here can be done the same way on Mac as it can on Linux, or virtually any other *NIX system: home accounts can be read directly from a network disk, their locations can be specified, and therefore, all this quota nonsense is unnecessary. On Windows, roaming profiles apparently must be downloaded to the client machine (an unbelievably stupid requirement), and the location of said profiles apparently must always be on the root drive in the "Documents and Settings" folder. I guess these are the ways in which Windows continues to force people to use Microsoft products (I can almost hear Bill Gates whispering in my ear, "Wouldn't it all be easier if you just used Windows Server?") But for software that's become the dominant standard in both the business and personal markets, Windows sure seems non-standard in baffling and infuriating ways. Though this may be how Microsoft has managed to stay on top all these years, I still, perhaps naively, believe that some day, if they don't change this strategy, it will hurt them. Frankly, though I'm sure they're out there, I don't know a single sysadmin that likes Windows. Can you blame them?