Novell weighs in with hearty NetWare 5

How do you hide an 800-pound gorilla? Make it compete against Microsoft Corp. The joke pretty well sums up Novell Inc.'s situation. Once undisputed king of the LAN, Novell has been overshadowed by Microsoft in the network operating system market. Ironically, Novell only left the hardware business to develop NetWare because, at the time, IBM Corp. ruled the PC industry.









How do you hide an 800-pound gorilla? Make it compete against Microsoft Corp.


The joke pretty well sums up Novell Inc.’s situation. Once undisputed king of the
LAN, Novell has been overshadowed by Microsoft in the network operating system market.
Ironically, Novell only left the hardware business to develop NetWare because, at the
time, IBM Corp. ruled the PC industry.


But death notices for Novell NetWare 5 are premature. After divesting tangential
offerings such as WordPerfect, Novell has regrouped and enjoyed several profitable
quarters. In GCN surveys of government users, versions of NetWare have scored highest by
healthy margins in the areas of security and mission-critical capability.


Furthermore, Novell has a six-year lead over Microsoft in developing the Novell
Directory Service (NDS), which is fine-tuned for replication and scalability.


Another plus: Novell saw long ago that its NOSes would have to coexist with Microsoft
Windows NT on enterprise networks and took steps to ensure compatibility between NDS and
NT. NT application servers work in mixed Novell environments with minimum disruption.


The news is not so good in other areas. Organizations primarily have used NetWare 4.11
for file and print services because of its weakness as an application platform. Novell
also failed to get out its marketing message that NT does not match up well against
NetWare in reliability or security.


Furthermore, NetWare until now has looked increasingly dated with its character-based
interface and its confusing maze of administration utilities and NetWare Loadable Modules
(NLMs). It has a reputation, somewhat justified, for being clunky to use and manage.
Compared with the easy setup and management of servers with NT’s graphical interface
and familiar Explorer-like windows and dialog boxes, NetWare has seemed like
yesterday’s news.


Before you upgrade, consider five things












But as the GCN surveys showed, network administrators dig down below these surface
issues.


How will NetWare 5 change the picture?


Novell’s design goals were simple: Capitalize on strengths and mend weaknesses.
One weakness, lack of support for symmetric multiprocessing, is now history. Not only can
NetWare 5 exploit the multiprocessor servers agencies have been buying, but so can any
NLMs loaded on it.


SMP capability, however, would be next to useless without the ability to allocate
processing power between the operating system and applications. NetWare 5 can do this and
also can set quotas for memory use.


NetWare 5 supports virtual memory. Earlier versions could use only the RAM present in
the server, which meant organizations had to buy enough RAM to deal with the worst usage
spikes and see it wasted at other times.


When a spike hits NetWare 5, the server can draw on virtual memory from disk. This
isn’t big news, but it demonstrates how well Novell understood what must be done to
turn its NOS around.


NetWare 5 finally embraces the graphical interface. Running as a Java application, its
ConsoleOne provides some management functions locally or remotely. It sucks up all the
resources of low-end Pentium processors, but it runs at acceptable speed on Pentium II
servers. This is only a first step, though, as ConsoleOne cannot administer printers and
their queues, Novell Application Launcher objects or other NDS features.


As time goes on, Novell’s Java-based management tools likely will become more
robust.


Java is now an integral part of NetWare. Any application certified by Sun Microsystems
Inc. as 100 percent pure Java can run as a network app under NetWare 5 in a low-overhead,
multithreaded environment. Included in NetWare 5 are Novell’s Java Virtual Machine,
just-in-time compiler, Java Naming Directory Interface and Java class libraries.


Along with support for open source code, NetWare 5 also supports the Object Request
Broker model of distributed object computing as set forth in the Common Object Request
Broker Architecture specification.


NetWare 5 even has a sort of plug-and-play architecture. It takes a snapshot of the
server’s hardware components, automatically detects new hardware and loads the proper
drivers. This happens whenever the server boots or encounters hot-pluggable PCI cards.


Upgrading a system component or replacing a defective board is possible with a minimum
of downtime or even without bringing the server down.


Many of these features make for a better file-and-print or application server. Novell
has particularly targeted the application server market with load balancing. Based on
preset performance thresholds, NetWare 5 can scale resources up or down as needed. For
example, it could assign a second processor to an application that suddenly draws a lot of
traffic.


Although NetWare has always been a threaded environment, earlier NOSes could not run
parallel threads. Under NetWare 5, applications can run threads concurrently on
uniprocessor systems or parallel on multiprocessor systems. This is a huge benefit to apps
such as an Oracle database server or Lotus Domino. The addition of parallel multithreads
certainly bolsters NetWare 5 as an application server.


Another piece of the application server puzzle is memory protection. For the first
time, NetWare 5 can run applications in a different memory space from the server kernel.
When an application crashes, it doesn’t take the server with it. This is an optional
feature, however, as a few NLMs perform worse in protected mode.


Also optional is automatic NLM restart after a failure. The protected application-space
memory works with NetWare 5’s virtual memory, which permits more than one swap file
and dynamic sizing of the swap file.


Another issue is IP support. NetWare has always used IPX packets, encapsulating any IP
packet. NetWare 5 supports IP natively but continues with IPX, which some administrators
still want for such things as legacy network appliances. IPX networking does have
advantages, such as setting up a sort of firewall that stops IP traffic. But sites that
want to go completely IP over the wire can do so.


Now that we’ve taken a look at how Novell fixed NetWare’s weaknesses, how did
it do at reinforcing strengths? Overall, pretty well. NetWare 4.11 has been a good choice
for file-and-print and enterprise directory services, security and heterogeneous networks.
Many of those strengths come from NDS’ central store of information about network
resources and users. Administrators, users and applications can find and manage resources
across a network through NDS.


Novell has always provided a central point to find, install and use printers across an
enterprise. NetWare 5 builds on that history with Novell Distributed Print Services, which
lets administrators install and manage network printers through a single directory object.
NDPS sets up bidirectional communication between users and printers, and it automates the
installation of remote printers.


File operations are even more important to users than printing. Novell Storage Services
have replaced the Novell File System, although NFS volumes are still supported.


NSS volumes mount significantly faster under a new directory structure. Recovery of a
damaged volume also happens much faster because NSS examines the last set of file system
operations to see whether they executed correctly; in contrast, NFS must scan the entire
volume for corrupt files.


How long it takes to get back online can be crucial for mission-critical servers.
Novell claims to have recovered terabyte-size volumes in 10 seconds. The GCN Lab had no
test volumes that large, but recovery times were minimal for its 4G drives.


NSS not only supports larger volumes, it handles them more efficiently. The new file
system can load any size volume with limited available memory; larger volumes previously
required extra memory.


Many of these performance improvements come from 64-bit interfaces and intelligent
algorithms that more effectively use available resources. For database and geographic
information system users, NSS can handle single files as large as 8 terabytes.


For users who simply want to handle more files, not bigger ones, NSS can hold as many
as 8 trillion files in a single volume. There is no limit on the number of directory
entries.


Organizations with large data sets will consider NSS a must. Smaller organizations also
will benefit from this ultra-efficient file system.


NetWare 5 presents new tools to back up and restore all files under the umbrella of
Storage Management Services. The enhanced SBackup utility can restore not only server
files but also binderies, NDS and client workstation files.


Novell has always done well in the security area. NetWare 5 authenticates via Secure
Sockets Layer connections and Secure Authentication Services. It has a complete encryption
underpinning that follows industry standards for public-key certificates and public- and
private-key encryption.


In a few months, Novell will release the Secret Store add-on, which will let developers
design their applications to tie in with NDS’ user authentication. That will enable a
single sign-on for every resource to which a user has rights.


Besides the hot-plug PCI already mentioned, NetWare 5 also supports Intel Corp.’s
I2O architecture for better system throughput across the server bus.


These are good features, but is NetWare 5 any easier to manage than its predecessors?
Yes and no. There are more tools with more capabilities, but NetWare still suffers from
poor console-level management.


Character-based tools are not the problem; finding the right tool for the job is. For
NetWare to survive against NT, the NOS must become easier for nonengineers to run.


The story is much the same for the graphical tools for remote systems. Novell should
take a look at Microsoft’s Management Console, a single-user interface for
administering almost any aspect of an NT network. It has a published application
programming interface that third-party developers can use to make their own plug-ins.
Providing this tool for NetWare would greatly increase usability.


On the client side, Novell makes its case with Zero Effort Networking for users in the
Desktop Management Tool Suite. Z.E.N.works is NetWare 5’s interface for application
distribution and management, and client administration.


To get across the message that NetWare is not just for file-and-print services anymore,
Novell bundles with the NOS a five-user version of Oracle8 Database Server and Netscape
FastTrack Web Server.


It sounds like a lot to digest, but, overall, NetWare 5 is a dream to use compared with
older NetWare versions. Its capabilities not only outdistance its predecessors and the
current version of Windows NT Server, they stack up nicely with what the GCN Lab has seen
in beta versions of Windows 2000. And unlike Win 2000, NetWare 5 is available now.


In the lab’s testing, I ran into almost no problems with performance, security or
availability, only with the administration and management changes—the areas where
NetWare has the farthest to go.


If you run NetWare 4.1x and 3.1x servers, should you upgrade? Definitely. The only
caveat is that Apple Macintosh clients are no longer supported natively. A third-party
tool is necessary for Mac clients to reach a NetWare 5 server, though the AppleTalk
protocol is still supported, as is the Mac Name Space module.


What about new servers? If you are purchasing now, I advise ordering them with NetWare
5. Novell delivers what Microsoft has so far only promised, and you simply cannot manage
an entire enterprise network with the current versions of NT.


Couple NetWare 5 with Version 2 of NDS for NT, which runs NDS natively on an NT system,
and you have a robust solution for heterogeneous enterprise networks.


NT has more short-term usability advantages, but performance and reliability matter
more in the long run. What sticks in the boss’ mind is how often the server went
down, how long it took to bring back up and how many times security holes were
exploited. 

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