CentreStack is a managed server for the creation of an object storage platform that can be deployed between the walls and in Managed Service Provider mode to be offered as a service to clients.
The product of the american Gladinet is a system halfway between classic file servers for companies and off-premises Cloud storage platforms usually used in SaaS/PaaS mode (think of Dropbox, Onedrive, etc..). By taking the best from both worlds, CentreStack can leverage the internal IT infrastructure (servers, storage, etc..) to offer a file sharing service also suitable for BYOD purposes in a Cloud mode. Management indeed is completely Web based with a dashboard from where you can control and act on all aspects of the platform, be it multi-tenant and multi-node as well.
Structure and requirements
CentreStack is composed by three main parts, or nodes: Web Front Node, Worker Node and Database Node. Nodes can be deployed as physical hosts or as separate virtual machines, or in an all-in-one mode on a single host (a solution which is particularly suitable for small dimensions scenarios or testing purposes) where all components are installed at once. In some situations Web Front and Worker nodes can be condensed on a single machine.
The first node deals with account management roles, load balancing and access control. Each node of this kind can manage up to ten Worker Nodes and can be bypassed is a dedicated hardware load balancer is already present. Services run on the Worker Node, like the web server which serves web interfaces (management and users) or the storage space and sharing services manager. The Database Node contains all persistent system information and requires an access latency lower than 10 milliseconds.
On a practical side, CentreStack (in the MSP version) allows the to create and manage multiple tenants with separate and dedicated storage. Each tenant has users, storage and policy management capabilities and and integration with Active Directory. By default storage is created in the path C:\CentreStack\alphanumeric-string-N and it can be changed with a network unit or with host drives (virtual or physical). It’s worth to note that, in terms of storage dries, CentreStack doesn’t have any requirement to fulfill as it leverages internal units (and network units) on the system it runs on.
CentreStack exclusively runs on the Windows platform and requires as fundamental components: IIS, .NET Framework, ASP.NET and SQL Server (or Server Express). A minimum Windows Server 2008 OS (or more recent) is required, but the latest releases can be installed on desktop machines with Windows 10. Hardware requirements are 8GB RAM, at least 200GB space and a (at least) quad-core processor, although 8 cores are suggested. In general it’s suggested the use of virtual machines instead of physical hosts.
Once these minimal requirements are fulfilled, CentreStack can serve an high number of users in this configuration. Documentation provided by Gladinet suggests all-in-one setups on a single server for up to 1000 users. Beyond this limit, the piece of advice is to use a dedicated SQL server host. Note that it’s 1000 concurrent users, so on a practical side you can have even 5000 users on a single node, but only 1000 can be active at once.
Its Windows based and highly virtualization inclined nature makes CentreStack a solution that can be easily deployed in the Cloud with platforms like Microsoft Azure or Amazon EC2.
Features for administrators and users
As mentioned before, CentreStack supports a multi-tenant structure: Managed Service Provider and those who want to use the product for reselling purposes can create and manage multiple entities, separated and isolated between them. This can be accomplished in the Tenant Manager section of the web interface that, as for the start page, offers a dedicated dashboard for each organization. The most important features are user management, integration with Active Directory and local and network storage
In terms of SSO (Single Sign On authentication), CentreStack integrates with Active Directory (as well as other solutions like Office365, Zoho, OpenSwift and AWS), but it also can be used in a stand-alone manned, maintaining a granular control on users, groups and permissions. You can define policies for each user in terms of writing/reading permissions, storage quotas and assigned home folders. CentreStack also allows an offline access to files, which are synchronized on local devices: this feature can be enabled or not on a per-user basis. Another interesting option of the single tenant option is the integration with Cloud storage spaces like Amazon S3, Google Drive, HP Cloud Storage, Rackspace Cloud Files, etc..
Coming back to the main dashboard, from the left menu you can access to all administration areas where you can configure every setting of the platform. CentreStack allows, with an MPS perspective, to customize every aspect: from the client web interface to clients for mobile and desktop devices. Such customization can be made in terms of general platform and single organization, thus offering environments with a common infrastructure but with ad-hoc interfaces. If using a single tenant interface, the default branding is adopted.
A similar idea can be applied to email templates (welcome, new user, password reset, file sharing, shared folders invites, etc..) that can be customized on a general and per-client level. Another interesting option is to export a configuration file with all branding settings.
As like most competitors platforms, users can use CentreStack in two modes: by means of a web access or with the dedicated client. Both solutions can be adopted from a computer and a mobile device, for the browser interface is responsive and clients are available for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Windows Phone (by visiting the web page from a mobile device, the download of the proper application is advised).
The interface is quite essential, with settings icons in the left upper part of the screen and file management icons in the left part. From the setting page you can access to the download of the client, to notifications and to a detailed report on storage use and device linked to your own account. Files can be uploaded to a specific path and as single files or whole folders. By selecting a single element you can download, copy, move or remove it. You can also configure the backup of certain folders; the client also offer a log with a complete tracking of activities.
Naturally file versioning is natively supported.
Deployment and practical test
We have tried the latest CentreStack release (8.3.4083.37971 of March 27) on Windows Server 2016 Datacenter as a 30-day demo which has no limitations on the available features. After registering on the website, you can download a handy web installer to be run on the host. In order to test the effective need of the stated hardware requirements, we have used a virtual machine (on a vSphere host) with a single dual core vCPU and 4GB of RAM, finding a certain slowness during the installation and initial configuration procedures, mostly due to the high load of the vCPU. The installation significantly speeded up by adding RAM and using a quad-core processor.
We have tested this product using the Web interface and the client only in a local network, but in order to use CentreStack outside the company walls, you need to configure any firewall and gateway system available to allow external access.
CentreStack is an interesting platform because of several aspects, in particular because it can be used in MSP and between-the-walls. The features provided are complete and the integration with the main Cloud service and storage providers makes it very flexible. However the product by Gladinet is in a crowded market where first-tier competitors offer similar services, if not even overlapping. The most direct comparison can be made with OwnCloud (Enterprise version), but we should cite public cloud services like OneDrive, Dropbox, Copy, FileCloud, etc..
A fundamental point to ponder the choice of adoption is the price of the service: Gladinet proposes a basic price of about 3,5$ per month (for resellers/companies) which can go up to 10 to 20$ per user per month as final client price.