Strong SBS has all a small office requires

Strong SBS has all a small office requires

Small Business Suite (SBS) 5 delivers on the promise of directory services in ways that are accessible to small businesses. This Novell product is designed to work for a single site with as many as 50 users, not to be a part of an enterprise network. The suite's NetWare 5 has been stripped down to use a single-partition directory service.

Microsoft offers a similar product, the Small Business Server, which is also based on the vendor's flagship OS. If you're looking for office automation in a package, I'd suggest choosing Novell's SBS 5. It costs far less than Microsoft's for a 25-user package. Also, the newly added Zero Effort Networking (ZEN) starter pack helps minimise support costs.

Bundled with SBS is a remarkable array of software. This version is the first that includes NetWare 5. Also debuting in SBS is GroupWise 5.5 for e-mail and groupware, the Novell Internet Connection Expert (NICE), the Novell Easy Administration Tool (NEAT), Netscape Enterprise Web Server for NetWare, Novell BorderManager FastCache Services, and Ragula FatPipes, which allows a server to double the speed of its Internet connection.

SBS 5 retains several tools, including Oracle 8.04, Network Associates McAfee NetShield for NetWare, VirusScan, NetObject Fusion 3.01, Tobit FaxWare 5.11, and NetWare Connect. Although the installation process is improved, it may still be too difficult for an inexperienced IT staff person.

The NetWare installation process set up my server with a non-routing IP address, which is a good choice for anyone using Novell Internet Access Software (NIAS) to connect to the Internet. NIAS is set up with NICE, which made it very easy.

Because of the shortage of available IP addresses, most ISPs want you to set up a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server to give non-routing addresses to the machines on your LAN and then use Network Address Translation to let users share a single Internet-legal IP address. This is the default SBS configuration, and it is a good choice for most installations. But because my LAN is already on the Internet, I easily changed the default IP address to match my local subnetwork with NetWare's Internet Configuration program.

SBS 5 includes a DNS and DHCP package that integrates with Novell Directory Services (NDS) and allows DNS to advertise addresses issued by DHCP. Not long ago, this functionality alone would have cost tens of thousands of dollars.

But with SBS 5, installing the OS is just the beginning. Figuring out what to install and in what order to install it is not easy. Novell should build in more automation and consistency to help inexperienced users. Because installation mistakes can have expensive long-term consequences, I strongly suggest that most customers have their SBS product professionally installed.

Next, I installed Novell's Client32 software on a Windows 95 PC. In another five minutes, I was connected to the server in an IP-only network. Once I was connected to the server, the installation process launched NEAT, which helped create users and groups, set up printers, and install GroupWise.

All of the other Novell and third-party software, except for the Oracle database, are installed from the PC. I would have preferred that Oracle use the same installation program as the rest of SBS's software and that starting and stopping the database were easier. The other programs add lines to the autoexec.ncf file to start the processes they needed automatically. But launching Oracle requires running two .ncf files and another to stop it. Failure to stop it correctly can cause database corruption. Because SBS 5 is not being marketed to database professionals, more hand-holding here would be a boon to users. Every application but GroupWise loaded and ran easily. The installation routine for GroupWise hiccuped when I accidentally bumped a key at the wrong time. The installation didn't complete correctly, and rerunning the installation didn't help.

The Novell sales engineer I talked to had not worked with GroupWise for some time and flailed instead of passing the problem on to someone more familiar with the current version of GroupWise. Several hours later, I deleted everything on the server that looked like part of GroupWise and then restarted the installation. This time, I kept my fingers off the keyboard, and the installation was successful. I was soon sending e-mail locally and via the Internet and scheduling appointments with co-workers. I was very surprised by how clean and easy to use the package is.

The true strength of SBS lies in the integration among the bundled applications, rather than the breadth of the software. An often-overlooked part of NetWare 4 and 5 is the ZEN starter kit. Its pieces work together and increase the advantages that SBS offers.

I haven't seen another package that works as well as the ZEN Novell Application Launcher (NAL). It is an NDS-aware menu system that lets users easily find and run the software they are authorised to use. NAL can also install software if it isn't already installed on the user's PC. The first time you click on an application, it installs and runs automatically. Although competing products such as Lan-ovation Picture Taker and 20/20 Software AutoInstall can install software at least as well, they don't have the menuing, security, and control functions. It is hard to overstate self-installing software's value to end users, system managers, or their employers. Everyone saves time and money.

Only one major piece of software that most businesses would want is missing from SBS: an office suite, the classic bundle of a spreadsheet, word processor, and presentation package. However, most offices have probably already acquired office suites and aren't inclined to replace them, so adding an office suite to this package would only raise its price. Still, making an office suite available as an option with SBS would benefit companies that want to standardise on a single office suite as they move to a network.

From start to finish, SBS 5 is a class act. It gives power to end users and system managers. Once the installation is over, it doesn't get in the way, it just works. What more can you ask for?

The bottom line

Small Business Suite 5

Summary: Novell's Small Business Suite (SBS) 5 is stable, easy to use, and meets the basic needs of almost any small office. But if you have an inexperienced IT staff, you should hire someone to set up SBS 5.

Business Case: With SBS 5, the savings extend beyond the deal offered by the low price of the software bundle. The Zero Effort Networking Novell Application Launcher will pay for the entire package by automating software installations and easing user confusion via its menuing system.


Powerful toolset


Excellent performance


Difficult initial installation

Lacks office-suite software

Not intended to be part of a larger networkPlatforms: Server: NetWare 5.00c; clients: Windows 3.1, Windows 95/98, Windows NT, OS/2Cost: Five users $2350; five-user upgrade $1262 RRP.

1800 244 364

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