Acronis ExtremeZ-IP Seamless Integration of Macs into Windows Infrastructure

ExtremeZ-IP as a workaround to Mavericks SMB file sharing

by John Rizzo

Acronis just released Extreme-Z IP 8.1.2, a maintenance update to the Mac-to-Windows file and print sharing software. But even before the update, ExtremeZ-IP has long circumvented OS X's annoying file-sharing glitches. It's also faster than OS X's SMB, according to Acronis, and integrates Macs with Windows environments.

ExtremeZ-IP avoids the SMB protocol that has been at the heart of the file sharing problems with Mavericks and earlier OS X incarnations. Acronis' software installs on Windows Server or Windows Professional, providing file sharing via Apple's AFP, the Apple File Protocol. Most versions of OS X have no problem with AFP file sharing, which is also faster than SMB.

With Mavericks Apple has backed away from AFP as the Mac's primary file sharing protocol. Mavericks defaults to the troublesome SMB2, even when two Mavericks Macs communicate with each other, but AFP is still included. OS X Server and some NAS devices support AFP, but Windows doesn't -- unless it's running ExtremeZ-IP.

ExtremeZ-IP also includes extra goodies, such as support for Mac Active Directory authentication and home directories, Microsoft clustering, accelerated Spotlight search features, and print server with print tracking. Acronis has been quietly adding features since it acquired ExtremeZ-IP in 2012 when it bought Group Logic. One feature called "Network Reshare" expands the reach of ExtremeZ-IP to other server. A single server running Extreme-Z IP can now enable Macs to use AFP to access NAS devices and other servers, even though these servers use SMB/CIFS. In other words, "Network Reshare" enables one ExtremeZ-IP server to present multiple SMB/CIFS servers on the network to the Macs, communicating with the Macs using AFP. ExtremeZ-IP can also reshare a Microsoft Distributed File System (DFS) namespace as an AFP volume.

Acronis claims that file transfers, both reading from and writing to the server, are faster than using OS X's SMB client.

In terms of speed, though, the feature that stands out is the searching of servers. ExtremeZ-IP allows Mac users to use OS X's Spotlight to search remote Windows Servers by file name and file contents when Windows Search is enabled on the server. Search results are near instantaneous, according to Acronis. Last summer, the company added a feature called "accelerated enumeration" that increased the speed of listings of folders containing thousands of files. ExtremeZ-IP accomplishes all this by indexing the files on the Windows server in a way the OS X's Spotlight can read.

Apple's history with SMB file sharing goes back to 2001, when the company shipped Mac OS X 10.1 with Samba, an open source SMB/CIFS client for Linux and Unix-based operating systems. Since then, just about every major version of OS X has had problems with SMB file sharing when first released. (For instance, see our Snow Leopard File Sharing page.)

Microsoft updated the protocol to SMB2 with Windows Vista, boosting performance, particularly with reading and writing large files, adding efficiencies for 10 GB networks. It took Apple a few years to catch up, adding some SMB2 support with OS X Lion, when Apple ditched SAMBA to create its own SMB client. (This first all-Apple SMB client in Lion also had problems for some users.) Full SMB2 support didn't come until Mavericks, and it is now the default protocol. Mavericks still includes support for SMB/CIFS. Readers have report that forcing Mavericks to use the older SMB can resolve problems. Similarly, forcing Mavericks to use AFP with OS X Server is also a workround.

ExtremeZ-IP has been around (and regularly updated) since 1999.

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