A tale of migration regret

About six years ago, my company made a strategic IT decision to migrate from Novell NetWare to Microsoft Windows NT. At the time, the decision seemed reasonable: Novell Inc. was on the wane, NetWare was growing a little stale, and NT and its myriad application products were touted as the new “industry standard.” We were not alone in our transition – corporate customers were making this switch in droves.

In hindsight, I regret that we ever made this move. I want my NetWare back! Why? Because unlike the Microsoft Corp. products we deployed in its place, NetWare works.

Hardly a day goes by when our network administrator isn’t checking the Internet for Windows bug alerts and software patches. He regularly has to restart our Exchange server because it has mysteriously stopped working. He loses sleep over Windows security concerns, as more security holes come to light. He logs more hours administering the Windows-based network than he ever did with our Novell network.

Again, we are not alone. Far bigger businesses than mine encounter these same issues.

To see if the grass is really greener on the NetWare side of the fence today, I talked with a couple large Novell customers. They are pleased with their decisions to stick with Novell and NetWare.

The director of distributed computing at a Texas energy firm says his company has been using NetWare since the mid-1980s and has found it to be “rock solid.” Along with the steady reliability of his networks (99.9 per cent uptime, he brags), he says they are easy to manage. Managing his 300 servers remotely has let him keep costs down. What’s more, he says the ratio of administrators to NetWare boxes is less than half what it is for the NT boxes that have crept in the door.

I heard the same story from an IT executive at a major hospital in Houston. When it comes to NetWare, he says, “it’s predictable – God bless it.” He’s got about 240 servers under his NetWare umbrella, some of which drive life-critical applications. His group has maintained “five nines” of uptime, and he credits the maturity and predictability of NetWare for this high level of reliability.

This executive conducted a study a few years ago about possibly migrating from NetWare to NT. His analysis revealed the move would cost US$4 million to $6 million. Aside from the cost, the hospital didn’t switch because there was no business reason to move off NetWare. Today, the hospital is looking to further entrench itself with NetWare and related technology, including Novell’s sign-on security products.

My fellow columnist Kevin Tolly, president of the technology consulting firm The Tolly Group, recently wrote about one of his clients that has NetWare and NT installed. As the network manager tells it, “NetWare server uptime is high and ‘abends’ are so rare that an occurrence is headline news.” Meanwhile, the manager adds, “Windows server outages are so common they are a given and people rarely complain.”

I also find that to be true at one of my large NT client sites. End users just seem to take it in stride when e-mail, or even access to the whole network, is down, because unplanned outages aren’t uncommon. But why should we have to put up with something that doesn’t work as expected?

The Network World Fusion forums are full of unsolicited testimonials about Novell and NetWare. One Certified Novell Engineer wrote, “The only time I reboot [my NetWare] servers is when a service pack comes out, unlike windows nt [sic], which every time I change something needs to be rebooted, never mind the memory leaks, poor administration, general weirdness, poor security etc. that you get with windows nt.”

Another network manager wrote in his forum, “As a network admin, my money goes to Novell.”

These network executives love NetWare so much because of good management tools, a great directory service, a strong interoperability story and, most of all, because it just works. Maybe it’s time to rethink your company’s decision to abandon NetWare and invite Novell back in the door to see what’s new. I know my company has.

Musthaler is vice-president of Currid & Co., a Houston technology consulting firm. She can be reached at linda@currid.com.