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Strong NetWare needs polish

Strong NetWare needs polish

Novell's NetWare 5 is a landmark upgrade for Novell in terms of changes to the product's architecture and its features. Its overall benefits will be attractive to current NetWare sites and to mixed environments looking to upgrade. However, given all that has changed in the product, I advise that you start testing now, but wait for a service pack before planning a full-scale deployment.

For sites toiling between NetWare 5 and Microsoft's forthcoming Windows NT Server 5.0, it remains to be seen whether NetWare 5's rejuvenated architecture is enough to start supplanting Windows NT as an application server. On the other hand, Microsoft will need at least one year after Windows NT 5.0 ships to prove whether Active Directory is a worthy replacement for Novell Directory Services (NDS). So mixed sites will probably remain so for some time.

NetWare 5 has quite a few nice features, such as native IP support and various infrastructure enhancements that will make the product a valuable upgrade for current NetWare shops. And the addition of new components such as the ZENworks Starter Pack, Oracle8 for NetWare, and the Novonyx Fast Track Server to the NetWare package may be a clincher for some sites.

On the whole, NetWare 5's traditional strengths, such as file, print, and directory services, remain fairly solid. Novell's native IP implementation offers a big boost in speed, but the new file system actually slowed down the average client's performance.

In spite of these gains, there are quite a few areas of the product, such as Novell's new DNS/Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) services, Novell Storage Services (NSS), and ConsoleOne, that still need to be shined up a bit. As a package, the features are there, but some polish still needs to be applied to the individual elements.

NetWare 5 has many significant changes compared with its predecessor, not the least of which are key improvements to the product's subsystems, yielding a symmetrical multiprocessing kernel with an integrated Java virtual machine (JVM), support for protected and virtual memory, and a new file system.

These core system improvements should help the NOS gain ground as a more reliable application server platform. But only time will tell whether Novell has convinced ISVs.

I was particularly impressed with Novell's new console utilities, which allowed me to independently bring processors online or offline, or load an application into a protected memory address space. However, Novell's protected memory implementation leaves it up to the administrator to determine whether an application should be loaded in protected memory. This can be good or bad depending on how you look at it.

NetWare's new file system, NSS, adds some benefits, such as significantly improving volume-mounting speeds, and support for single file and volume sizes as large as 8 terabytes. I was really impressed with the benefits of NSS, and administrators will soon come to enjoy them as well.

However, NSS is still a work in progress and I was a bit disheartened to find several limitations with the new file system. In particular, NSS does not currently support user-volume quotas, disk compression, or suballocation. In addition, Novell doesn't support the use of the NSS file system on the NetWare SYS volume. And Novell hasn't provided any tools to migrate an existing NetWare file system volume to NSS. Novell company officials say that all of these features are planned, but you won't find them in today's box of NetWare 5.

NetWare 5 also sports a number of enhancements that build on the power of NDS. Perhaps the most impressive directory-enabled element is the inclusion of the ZENworks Starter Pack, which arms administrators with a powerful set of tools with which to manage end-user desktop profiles and application distribution.

The ZENworks Starter Pack is perhaps one of the top features in NetWare 5 for reducing desktop management costs, and it provides much more extensive client support than is currently evident in Microsoft's IntelliMirror technologies slated for Windows NT 5.0.

Scaled-down edition

The scaled-down edition of ZENworks that ships with NetWare 5 includes all of the full product's components, except for the desktop inventory, remote control, and help desk elements.

In addition, Novell's Catalog Services allows administrators to build lightweight indexes of specific directory attributes. These provide high-performance lookups of specific directory-hosted information for specific applications.

Novell ships two features with NetWare 5 that immediately take advantage of Catalog Services. The first is Novell's lightweight directory access protocol (LDAP) for NDS, which allows any standards-based LDAP client to query NDS for typical user information. The second application is a feature called contextless log-ins, which automatically looks up a user's log-in name and directory context while at the NetWare Login prompt.

I was really impressed with the context-less log-in feature, which worked really well. However, creating and managing catalogues to support applications such as this will require quite a bit of mastery on the part of administrators. I felt that Novell could have simplified this process a bit.

Novell's new DNS and DHCP services also feature integration with directory services. All of the configuration elements for each service will now be stored in NDS and benefit from NDS replication as a fault-tolerance mechanism. I did run into one problem with the DNS server; this required my restarting the DNS service before clients could access the newly created resource records, such as a host alias record.

Another key advancement pertaining to NDS is the WAN Traffic Manager. This addition will be a boon for administrators who want to create custom policies for NDS replication - particularly over expensive dial-up WAN links.

Novell has added a number of sample policies to the feature, an improvement in comparison to the last beta release that I tested. However, customising your own policies will require some scripting. I felt that Novell could have provided a simple, graphical tool for creating basic scripts, without requiring administrators to write scripts from scratch.

Novell's commitment to Java as a strategic platform could not be made clearer than with the delivery of NetWare 5. In addition to the integrated JVM on the server and the new NetWare GUI, Java makes several other appearances in the product.

Three such appearances are in the form of administration utilities. For example, Novell's ConsoleOne is the strategic Java-based replacement for the NWAdmin utility. Although ConsoleOne has improved considerably over its form in previous beta releases that I tested, the tool's performance and functionality doesn't yet come close to what administrators are used to in NWAdmin.

ConsoleOne is clearly included in the product as an infrastructure piece and as a statement of strategic direction. However, it will be of little benefit to administrators in the short-term. As a result, Novell will be continuing its support for NWAdmin in NetWare 5.

NetWare 5's new DNS and DHCP configuration tool is also written in Java, and it too appears to have improved quite a bit compared with the previous beta releases. However, I think this tool could also benefit from some refinements. With the DNS/DHPC Manager I was able to administer these services. However, the tool's performance was slow, quirky, and somewhat painful to use.

A third administrative tool written in Java is Novell's Pure IP Remote Console program, which lets administrators access any NetWare 5 server remotely via native IP. I found this tool adequate, but again its performance was subpar compared with Novell's traditional DOS- and IPX-based remote-management tool, rconsole. Furthermore, I was unable to access the NetWare 5 GUI from either of these remote-management tools. NetWare 5's installation is a nice improvement vs that of NetWare 4.11. Among the key improvements are a bootable CD, automatic creation of the required DOS boot partition, improved device detection, and a simpler GUI-based installation program.

Considerable wizardry

In addition, NetWare includes the Novell Migration Wizard, which considerably eases the burden of migrating NetWare 3.x bindery-based user accounts and data files to NetWare 5. I was not able to use the tool to perform an over-the-wire migration of NetWare 4.x files, though.

Throughout the course of my testing, I encountered only one show stopper, a bug that caused an unrecoverable server Abend (abnormal ending); it happened when I quickly exited Novell's monitor tool after browsing the virtual-memory address space statistics. This problem recurred several times, though not always; Novell was not able to determine the cause of this prior to press time.

NetWare 5 is a major release. And whenever a large number of elements in a product change, you will want to thoroughly test the features that you intend to use prior to rolling out the product in your environment.

Based on the tests I ran and the issues that I encountered, I think that NetWare 5 has a lot of promise and benefits, particularly for large enterprise sites. However, I think it is probably best to start your testing now and wait for at least one service pack before you put NetWare 5 servers into production.

What's new in NetWare 5

OS infrastructure

Unified multiprocessing kernel

Protected and virtual memory support

Integrated Java virtual machine

Novell Storage Services

Internet services

Novonyx Fast Track Server

Print services for Unix

Directory-integrated DNS/DHCP services

Directory-integrated public key infrastructureNetworking servicesNative IP supportNetWare Distributed Print ServicesRemote access serviceDirectory servicesCatalog ServicesContextless log inWAN Traffic ManagerApplication servicesServer-side Java virtual machineCORBA/IIOP supportOracle8 (five-user version)NSS no benefit, but native IP is the ticket to speedy NetWare 5 performanceIn evaluating NetWare 5 we wanted to measure the overall system performance when moving from NetWare 4.x to NetWare 5. In addition, we wanted to evaluate the efficiency of NetWare 5's native IP implementation, and the new file system technology, Novell Storage Services (NSS).

Overall, we found that when moving directly from NetWare 4.11 (with Support Pack 5) with no protocol or file systems changes, NetWare 5 will provide comparable or improved performance in light to heavy file and print environments. However, under very heavy loaded conditions (as in our 44-client test) NetWare 4.11 was actually 35 per cent faster than NetWare 5.

We found the performance of NetWare 5's new native IP protocol to be comparable to IPX in lightly loaded environments. Under heavier loads, though, the native IP implementation really shines - turning in performance improvements of as much as 22 per cent vs the next best alternative. If you are running in a heavy file and print environment, you'll definitely want to move to native IP.

Finally, we weren't all that impressed with the performance of Novell's NSS. In our tests, NSS always performed slower than NetWare's native file system. And under heavier loads NSS performance continued to degrade. In addition, we were unable to get better performance from the file system after applying some tuning parameters that were recommended by Novell.

Our benchmark included a mix of application-based tests - loading files, performing work, printing and saving files, and some file copy operations.

Our tests included three client load configurations - a 6-client test, a 24-client test, and 44-client test. We used a mix of Dell Optiplex Gxa machines with 266MHz Pentium II processors and Compaq Deskpro 4000 systems with 200MHz Pentium processors with MMX.

Configuration3

Each client was configured with Windows 95 OEM Service Release 2 and 32MB of RAM. We distributed our clients across two Cisco 2820 Ethernet switches, each client running at switched 10Mbps in half-duplex mode.

We tested with a Dell PowerEdge 2200 dual processor server with 333MHz Pentium II CPUs configured with 256MB of RAM and two Intel Etherexpress 10/100 network interface cards running in full-duplex mode on switched 100Mbps Fast Ethernet.

The Bottom Line

NetWare 5

This major release of Novell's flagship offers quite a few new features that will benefit enterprise-level customers. The product is fairly stable overall; however, there are still a number of unpolished items.

Pros: Native IP support; directory-enabled desktop policy and application management; memory protection and virtual memory support; several enhancements to Novell Directory Services; includes Novonyx Fast Track Server, Oracle8 for NetWare.

Cons: Various features exhibit limited behaviour or lack polish; new Novell Storage Services file system carries some limitations with its benefits.

Platforms: Intel-based servers with minimum of a Pentium processor and 64MB of RAM.

Price: Not yet available;

Novell Tel (02) 9925 3000


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