GuidesNovell NetWare -- A fully Web-based major network operating system

Novell NetWare — A fully Web-based major network operating system

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The appearance of NetWare 6 marks something of a new beginning for Novell. Besides being a major reworking of the server to make it much more Internet and TCP/IP-oriented, NetWare 6 shines with a variety of outstanding features, including iFolder and iPrint, and one “good because it’s gone” feature — the phasing out of the NetWare client program.

The appearance of NetWare 6 marks something of a new beginning for Novell. Besides being a major reworking of the server to make it much more Internet and TCP/IP-oriented, NetWare 6 shines with a variety of outstanding features, including iFolder and iPrint, and one ‘good because it’s gone’ feature — the phasing out of the NetWare client program.

NetWare 6 also plays to a history of accommodating other operating systems. It uses the Web to extend its ecumenical approach: Windows, Unix, Linux, and Mac OS are all supported. In effect, Novell is saying, “Go through us to get the best of proprietary technology and open standards.” This applies not only to those elements of NetWare that Novell continues to cherish, such as its directory, print and file services, but also to connections with features offered on competing operating systems.

In addition, even with all the major operating systems talking the talk about interoperability, NetWare 6 is arguably the only one walking the walk.

Lose the Client

For both users and administrators, the headline news is that NetWare 6 does not require a client program. Previous versions of NetWare required a rather hefty client to be installed, configured, and updated on every machine that connected to the network. This was, at best, a lot of work for administrators. With NetWare 6, all users, including administrators, can access the network using a standard Web browser from anywhere, anytime, with any kind of device (including handhelds) that can run a browser. As a result, there is one user interface, called WebAccess, regardless of the service (i.e., file, print, or management) or platform these reside on.

It’s easy to see that WebAccess is convenient, especially for administrators and road warriors, but the more important question is, is it safe?

We spent considerable time testing and researching and came to this conclusion: Novell continues to be one of the most secure network systems. In the Novell approach, WebAccess and many other services employ the Certificate Server, which uses Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) to create certificates that authenticate users (through the eDirectory) and encrypt data for transmission. The connection to the Web server is handled through SSL. In some cases the encryption is double-keyed. While no Internet-based system is bulletproof, Novell has obviously worked hard to design a secure environment from the ground up.

Currently, the browser-based approach to network access is just one of four methods NetWare 6 offers. Another method is simply the browser and a URL. This displays files and other resources in a Web page but lacks such features as drag-and-drop manipulation. Another method is NetDrive, which maps over FTP, HTTP, or WebDAV and uses a specific drive letter. This approach requires a small client (and is Windows only). Then there is the Windows Explorer method, which points to a specific NetWare 6 server and generally requires clever drive mapping to be useful. Finally, the NetWare Client32 is still supported.

These options all have their place, but implementing them creates a “dot-0” feeling in some of NetWare 6.

On the Road

In addition to the benefits of browser-based access, Novell has added iFolder, a data synchronization utility that really works. With iFolder, users can log files from almost any source (e.g., LAN, WAN, or Internet), and a current copy is registered and stored on the local computer and on the iFolder server (part of NetWare Server). As the user moves about, these files are updated, and if he or she should encounter disaster (like a dead hard drive) the files can be accessed with any browser. We noticed that iFolder does its updating in the background and only transmits changes (incremental update), which saves time.

In general, the average user can install iFolder and thereafter pretty much forget about its operation. To be fair, Microsoft Windows 2000 and XP do have a similar feature, but it is not as convenient to use.

Easy Output

In a vein similar to iFolder, NetWare 6 introduces iPrint, which consolidates the functionality of Novell Distributed Print Services (NDPS) and the Internet Printing Protocol (IPP). The capability to use printers anywhere on a Novell network is not new, but iPrint adds the ability to use printers anywhere on the Internet, plus as needed a (relatively) automatic installation of printer drivers. Some printers (and Apple networks) do not support IPP, which may present some difficulties, but for the most part we found iPrint to be another effective convenience for users on the move.

In Control

For those of you unfortunate enough to remember the days when a Novell server installed with a monstrous pile of floppy disks and much bad language, the installation and configuration of NetWare 6 is, comparatively, a walk in the park … albeit a large and not always well-organized park. This collection of network server features has been stitched together from a variety of sources, including, older versions of NetWare, new Java elements, open source products, and ad hoc support for Internet standards. To Novell’s credit, the results effectively move NetWare in a new and broad-based direction, but it’s still something of a jumble for an administrator.

For the enterprise administrator (multiple servers and distributed environment) NetWare 6 is mostly a boon. In addition to being able to do most administrative tasks remotely over the Internet with the Java-based ConsoleOne or a Web browser (Remote Manager), Novell has added improved support for server clusters (Novell Cluster Services 1.6 – a SAN solution), multiprocessor support (up to 32 processors), an improved file storage system (a much beefed-up Novell Storage Solutions 3.0), and integration of eDirectory with almost every aspect of system security and management. We found that remote management over the Web — without broadband — to be slow and limited by the nature of the browser interface; however, it’s still an improvement over prior versions.

For administrators of small to midsize businesses who probably don’t deal with the LAN operating system all that often, some aspects of NetWare 6 may be confusing. Novell uses the Apache Web server and Tomcat application server to power many of its new features. It still uses Netscape Enterprise Server for Netware to handle FTP and News. Novell’s own software, such as GroupWise (e-mail and scheduling) and ZenWorks (desktop management), are often added to the mix especially as part of the Novell Small Business Suite 6. There’s more, but you probably get the picture — all of these components must be managed.

Administrators should count on making a revision or two before the organization of NetWare 6 is fully rationalized and simplified to them.

In Development

As a platform for developing and running applications, NetWare 6 has certainly moved Novell closer to the open standards of the Internet and Java; however, it hasn’t made NetWare a powerhouse application platform in the same league as those from Microsoft or Linux network servers.

NetWare’s support for Java includes a customized Java Virtual Machine (JVM 1.3) that supports Novell-specific commands and the Tomcat application server to run Java servlets and Java Server Pages (JSP). Specific support for database management covers Sybase, Btrieve, and Informix but is limited for the market leaders Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft. PERL, CGI, and JavaScript, as well as Novell Script (which enables VBScript and Active Server Pages), cover Web scripting. Multiprocessor code must be run in a NetWare Loadable Module (NLM). This is a patchwork of programming tools, and it’s fair to wonder if NetWare will ever attract major software development suites customized for the NetWare environment.

For organizations already using Novell servers, the gist of this review is: Run, don’t walk, to become familiar with the ins and outs of NetWare 6. This isn’t necessarily a bump-free transition from NetWare 5.x, and it does require some rethinking, but just for starters, ridding your network of client programs is a worthy goal.

For organizations contemplating using NetWare for the first time, the issue has rarely been Novell’s technology but rather its capability to deal with marketing problems. Put another way, the company has often been on shaky business ground. Novell hopes that NetWare 6 provides the platform to turn this around. We think it does, but again, that’s a technology issue.

NetWare 6 doesn’t necessarily replace the strengths of other network platforms. It doesn’t try to. The reality is that large organizations usually have multiple platforms. In this milieu NetWare 6 is arguably at its best as the ultimate team player.

Pros: Aggressively Web-oriented; Multiplatform friendly
Cons: Needs some time and revisions for the complex mixture of features and controls to become better organized and easier to administer

Version Reviewed: 6

Reviewed by: Nelson King
Last Updated: 3/14/02

Date of Original Review: 3/14/02

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