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NetWare 6: Don't call it a comeback

NetWare 6: Don't call it a comeback

Major releases of OSes (operating systems) such as Novell NetWare or Microsoft Windows have traditionally featured major architectural changes that challenge the ability of IT staff to adapt to the new way of thinking. But customers are less inclined than ever to put up with software that requires a "rip and rebuild" of the logical and physical infrastructure every few years. Shrinking budgets require that changes happen smoothly and are transparent to customers and end users.

If your shop never lost its faith in NetWare - or was seduced, then disillusioned, by another OS - your long wait in the desert is finally over. Although the current economic slump means that nobody's predicting pie in the sky for computer hardware and software vendors, Novell stands a strong chance of rebounding if the next release of its flagship NOS wins acceptance among existing and new customers. The main requirement the customers have is that whatever new OS is adopted it must not upset the already rickety apple cart.

After examining Beta 3 of NetWare 6, we are impressed: Novell has finally created a NetWare server that you can drop into your existing network without creating a splash. Even someone with no previous NetWare experience can have a server up and running and available to users within a few hours. NetWare 6 no longer requires clients to install any special software, so end-user installation is reduced to a few clicks in a Web browser. Client software is provided for backward compatibility with NetWare 3.x/4.x/5.x servers or use with Novell tools such as the ZENworks for Desktops management software.

The new NetWare's openness may be its most important feature, and it manifests in many ways. Using the desktop's basic networking protocols, Native File Access Pack allows a NetWare server to present itself to desktops running Linux, Macintosh, and Windows operating systems. This alone could make NetWare 6 a serious alternative both for IT managers who are considering Microsoft's Windows server family and for the growing and vocal Linux and Unix contingents.

Other examples of NetWare 6's new open-access philosophy are found in the iFolder and iPrint features. With iFolder, mobile users can access their files flexibly and securely via a Web browser; iPrint makes managing and using printer resources easier by employing a combination of NDPS (Novell Distributed Print Services) and IPP (Internet printing protocol) at the server and a Web browser plug-in on the client. This allows IT departments to map printers in a whole new way: Novell includes a tool that takes a floor-plan image and adds printer icons in the appropriate locations.

Finally, NetWare 6's browser and Java-based management tools continue to improve. The Java-based Console One replaces NWAdmin (NetWare Administrator), a 32-bit Windows application that can't scale to manage the many thousands of objects in the larger NDS trees being used today. The Management Portal provides a secure Web-based interface that's the next best thing to being in the server room.

As companies seek to take advantage of expanding hardware capacities in memory, multiprocessor support, and storage, scalability becomes increasingly important. NetWare 6 can address as much as 64GB of RAM, supports systems with as many as 32 CPUs, and offers in-the-box support via NSS (Novell Storage Services) 3.0 for file systems as large as 8 terabytes, with as many as 1 million simultaneous open files. NSS also helps get NetWare servers online more quickly by offering a streamlined volume-mounting process, which is especially useful when clustering servers in front of a SAN (storage area network).

The only snag we had while installing NetWare 6 involved a loose patch cable; we therefore deem the setup routine idiot-proof.

We eagerly await the final release of NetWare 6 as we remember back to the days when installing Novell's NetWare was a no-brainer. Back in the early 1990s, no other serious contender existed for leadership in the NOS space. Novell had everything going for it: technology, cash flow, and momentum. Then the company frittered it away while Microsoft used Windows NT 4 to eat Novell's lunch and supper. Today, Microsoft keeps putting off its customers with incremental releases of Windows NT/2000/.Net Server, and NetWare 6 might be just what Novell needs to regain relevance and market share. It certainly offers customers everything they're looking for: open access, reliability, scalability, and security.

The bottom line - NetWare 6 Beta 3

Business Case: Tight budgets mean wringing the most value out of NOSes that offer low maintenance and simple management and feature openness and security.

Technology Case: With new Native File Access technology, combined with Web-based services, NetWare 6 is worth considering over Windows 2000.

Pros:

+ Eliminates the need for client software+ iFolder and iPrint offer Web-based file access and printer setup+ Hardware scalability in key areas equal to or superior to that of similar productsCons:

- "Fat-client" software still required to access older NetWare servers or to use certain long-established tools.

Platform(s): Pentium II or higher; 700MHz Pentium III or faster recommended for multiprocessor configurations.

Shipping date: NetWare 6 is due to hit Australia this month.

Cost: Australian pricing is not yet confirmed but is expected to be around $A373 per user licenceNetWare 6 can be purchased in Australia from Express Data, Open Channel Solutions (govt providers only) and Tech Pacific.

Express Data: www.expressdata.com.au, Tech Pacific: www.techpacific.com.au, Open Channel Solutions: www.ocs.com.


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