Beta testers give NetWare 6 positive marks

Joe Doupnik has a big problem with NetWare 6, Novell Inc.’s newest network operating system.

“There is so much information in this package that administrators and users are going to be overwhelmed at first,” says Doupnik, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.

NetWare 6, which ships this month, includes a completely rewritten Web look for users and administrators, and support for multiprocessor and clustered servers. The release is important to Novell as it struggles to retain longtime NetWare users and give them new and useful tools so they don’t move to Microsoft Corp. or other vendors.

Network World interviewed some beta users of NetWare 6 and found they liked a number of key new features, such as:

Internet printing option, which lets users and administrators select printers and print to them simply by choosing the printer from a Web-based graphical representation of the network.

IFOLDER, which lets traveling or remote employees work on files located on the network from remote locations. If users create files, when they attach to the network during dial-up communications, those files are immediately saved to the network.

Native File Access Protocol, which eliminates the need to install client software on network workstations to access the file server. Users gain access to the network via a Web browser, which is particularly helpful for remote users, where client administration is time-consuming and configuration is problematic.

Novell Remote Manager, which lets users collect management utilities from NetWare 5.x under one interface that can monitor, manage and reconfigure servers, directories and workstations on the network.

However, beta users said the training for technicians and users would take considerable resources. “There’s a huge learning curve people have to surmount,” Doupnik says. But, he says, the fact that essential functions – printing, file saving, synchronization and management – have been moved to a familiar browser base will make their introduction to users and administrators easier.

The package should make administering NetWare environments easier.

“With Novell Remote Manager, everything is right there together, and you don’t have to go from one tool to the next or get out of something to go into something else because management is in one spot,” says Alisa Phelps, internetworking analyst for Forsyth County in Winston-Salem, N.C. “There are a lot of features such as processor utilization and memory allocation that people didn’t know how to get to before that you can access from a browser, irrespective of your location.”

Phelps manages 21 NetWare 4.11 servers and one NetWare 3.2 server for 1,400 staff members at 10 Forsyth County government offices. Each NetWare server contains office applications, e-mail and databases. She also has 15 Windows NT servers that run DNS, Web services and SQL Server. Because Phelps may need to manage and fix problems on servers from home or any location on the network, she is looking for a package with a Web-browser interface that lets her handle that.

“Administrators and users are asking, ‘How can I manage functions such as printing and file synchronization without a Web-based interface that lists all the things I need to do?'” Doupnik says. Novell has thought about users and how they work, and incorporated it into NetWare 6, he says.

Another Web-based feature eliminates the need for administrators to install client software on all user PCs. “With the Native File Access Protocol, Novell has is also trying to come close to what the customer is wanting to do – make access easy,” Doupnik says.

Alex Bogdanovsky, network systems manager for the University of Maryland in College Park, is using NetWare 6 to cluster up to 10 of his 19 NetWare 5.1 servers. “We have held up on clustering our servers until NetWare 6 because the new product has significantly improved the clustering capability,” he says.

“Novell has improved storage services, making it easier for us to pool resources and distribute them within departments, and they’ve made clustering more reliable and easier to use,” Bogdanovsky says. “You can specify which servers will take over resources in the event of a server failure. If a second server fails, you also specify where its resources will run.” With NetWare 6, an administrator can cluster up to 32 servers.

Of all the features Novell offers with NetWare 6, Brad Staupp, senior support analyst at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kan., has waited the longest for one – the ability to run NetWare and see performance increases on servers with multiple processors.

“Finally,” Staupp says. “Our need for symmetric multiprocessing goes all the way back to NetWare 4 when Novell wasn’t really doing SMP.”

“Now SMP is really active – all the modules are written for symmetrical processing. We are seeing a 10 per cent to 20 per cent improvement in performance. Some applications are running 50 per cent better,” Staupp says. Novell has been promising SMP for at least five years.

NetWare 6 will ship this month for US$184 per user.