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Introduction to Linux-based document management systems

A file server is a great asset but it doesn't cover all the bases for document organization, security, and revision tracking.
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Document management systems

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Almost every network I've worked on in the past 20+ years has had a corporate network file server where users store files in a "home" directory and share documents in public spaces. It's a standard for networks that began in the 1980s and it has endured until today. The file server has served us well and will continue to do so for some time to come; however, users' needs change. Security is more of a concern now than ever before, and users need more organization as well as better image management, archival, backup, restore, and retrieval capabilities. A document management system (DMS) is the answer.

The scoop

A DMS provides users and administrators with fine-grained security as well as search and version control. Search is very important to organizations whose users have stored thousands or tens of thousands of documents. Standard filesystem search can be fast for a few users, but it's less efficient than an indexed search specifically designed for a document management system.

There are tools such as locate but these must be manually updated. The DMS only searches within its registered files and not the entire filesystem. NFS-mounted filesystems can also slow searches to an unacceptable level. The document management system streamlines search, retrieval, and overall document management. Document management systems also include other features that simple file servers don't, such as full-text search within all document formats, OCR, exporting, scalability, modularity, commenting, cloud connectivity, CMS integration, and mobile apps. DMSs really are the next evolutionary leap in managing corporate file repositories.

Although document management systems can be prohibitively expensive, there are several free, open source, and community versions of commercial packages available. However, just like any community-supported application, you either can rely on the community at large, or you can have an in-house or third-party developer assist you with customizations. 

The skinny

Over the coming weeks, I'm going to install, set up, use, and review a few of these document management systems. They are in no particular order, and I have no preferences or stake in the outcome of the reviews. They are provided purely for informational purposes only. My process will be as follows:

  1. Go to the DMS site
  2. Download the software
  3. Install the software
  4. Set up the software
  5. Use the DMS
  6. Document the process
  7. Analyze options
  8. Review the install/setup/usage

I have no biases going into this because I have only used one DMS myself, and it was a very expensive commercial suite, at least ten years ago, so this will be a discovery process for me as well. My system of choice is a CentOS 8.x virtual machine (VM) with plenty of space and recommended RAM. 

The deets

I'm going to give honest reports on each of these systems from my experiences. The following is a partial list of DMSs that I plan to attempt to install and set up. I may add more as appropriate.

  • Alfresco
  • Casebox
  • DocMgr
  • Epiware
  • Kimios
  • LogicalDOC
  • Mayan EDMS
  • OpenDocMan
  • NemakiWare
  • SeedDMS
  • Others

Each DMS will be featured in its own article. I'll provide licensing options, special features, and storage requirements and options. Don't worry. I've done this before.

The plan

Once you've down-selected a few DMSs to try, install them on virtual machines and select a pilot group of users from each department to find out if the feature set suits everyone's needs. Make it easy for your users to test by adding your test VMs to DNS so that they don't have to use IP addresses when connecting to the new service. Provide sufficient access and credentials so that the pilot users don't have to drive you crazy with "I don't have permission to..." and "I don't have access to..." complaints. Your pilot program will fall flat if your users find that using a new service is too difficult or time-consuming. Users often will stick with the devil they know rather than experience the pain of a learning curve of a new service.

Don't bog down your pilot group with a lot of unnecessary details. Allow them to discover and explore these new systems to find out which one(s) work best for them. Also, don't fear the fact that Accounting might select a different option from Human Resources, and Engineering might select a third option. Remember that you have the power of virtual machines at your disposal for these trials and for production. If different departments can't decide on a single solution, offer the suggestion that each department funds its own solution and give them options, such as physical systems, large amounts of storage, cloud-based systems, and so on.

The wrap

If a simple file server or electronic filing cabinet is no longer sufficient to handle the number of documents you need to manage, or you need advanced security, or you require better organization, then you should explore Linux-based document management systems. The ones I've mentioned have free, open source, community-supported options. You can test the DMS waters without a financial commitment. And, if you find that you've made a good selection, most of the commercial options are subscription-based, so the financial layout is less significant. You can also install these on virtual machines and migrate later to a dedicated physical system if necessary.

[ Thinking about a cloud strategy? See why enterprises choose open hybrid cloud. ]

Topics:   Document management   Storage  
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Ken Hess

Ken Hess is an Enable SysAdmin Community Manager and an Enable SysAdmin contributor. Ken has used Red Hat Linux since 1996 and has written ebooks, whitepapers, actual books, thousands of exam review questions, and hundreds of articles on open source and other topics. More about me

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