Double enrolment eased for Laurier

There have been no shortage of networking challenges for Waterloo, Ont.-based Wilfrid Laurier University in recent times.

Two years ago its original network infrastructure provider pulled a disappearing act by ceasing production of the tools in which the school has invested. And recently Laurier found itself in need of an immediate upgrade to accommodate the expected “double cohort” of student enrolment next year. That term refers to the Ontario government’s decision to eliminate the OAC year, or year five, from the province’s high school program. This means twice as many first-year students will be applying to Ontario colleges and universities this fall.

The search has ended with Markham, Ont.-based Novell Canada, which has been brought in to provide anywhere, anytime access to network resources for the university’s 11,000 full- and part-time students, staff and faculty.

“The realization that our public access labs are already under a lot of pressure…was always in the back of our minds,” Langford said. “[Now students] can get at their stuff no matter where they are. People don’t have to go into the public labs anymore to do what they need to do.”

According to Novell, the project was undertaken in two stages, with phase one already complete. In October of last year, the university selected Novell NetWare 6, the company’s premier platform for delivering Net services across all types of networks, storage platforms and client desktops, to provide students with improved network access. The university also opted for Novell Internet Messaging System (NIMS) as the standard e-mail and calendar system.

“(Phase one) was rolled out over the Christmas holidays,” said Ross Chevalier, director of technology for Novell Canada. “As they roll it out, the university will be able to take advantage of services including NetWare 6, NIMS and to deliver services through a Web browser. It gives their population Web-based access to services of Laurier, including things like network drives, public printing and messaging.”

Carl Langford, manager of technical support for Wilfrid Laurier, said the university needed a reliable solution to accommodate the school’s population. The university had been a Westboro, Mass.-based Banyan Systems Inc. customer until its exit from the desktop networking market in 2000.

“We had to do something,” Langford said. “We are a pretty small staff compared to the size and complexity of our user environment. We need something that was stable and low-maintenance. That was our first draw to NetWare because it has that reputation. Once we got looking at the Web awareness of NetWare, that really struck a chord with us.”

According to Langford, NetWare has saved the university time and money in deploying software to student and faculty computers. He added that staff and students no longer have to be on campus to access information and files as long as they have access to a standard Web browser.

Phase one of Laurier’s rollout was completed in January and had so much success that Langford said Phase two has been bumped up from the summer to the spring.

“When the students came back after Christmas…it was such a non-event, we decided to start on the faculty and staff,” he said.

In Phase two, faculty and staff will also receive anywhere, anytime access to school data through NetWare 6, and will also use Novell GroupWise, an integrated messaging system as their standard e-mail. Novell said that the university will also be implementing ZENworks for servers and for desktops, which the company said automates and simplifies network management including distributing information across the enterprise to maintaining consistent policies on desktops, servers and devices.

University staff will also begin utilizing Novell Account Management 2.1, which unifies the management of user profiles on multiple platforms including NetWare, Windows 2000, NT, Solaris and Linux.

“It is a highly rapidly deployable environment and provides great flexibility and great scale,” Chevalier said.

Although Laurier seems pleased with its decision to roll out NetWare 6, analyst Dan McLean, director of enterprise network services research for IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, expressed surprise at the choice.

“It is not often that you hear about institutions or businesses rolling out NetWare,” the Toronto-based research director said. “NetWare has been a network operating system that has been on a very serious downward slide for the past five years, at least. To hear that somebody is actually rolling out NetWare is pretty interesting.”

McLean added that NetWare was one of the offerings Novell did not put a lot of focus on in terms of advancing forward, or focusing as far as promoting it as a viable option as a network OS.

“If you go back nine or 10 years, NetWare was in use by the vast majority of organizations as a network operating system,” he explained. “Over the last five to seven years, it has lost momentum and its market share is a fraction of what it was. It has lost ground to the likes of Unix and Windows.

They have their work cut out for them. There is a lot of confusion in the market about NetWare in terms of the feature function that it now has. I don’t think the market is clear on the value proposition of it anymore.”

Phase two of Wilfrid Laurier University’s Novell solutions implementation will commence in the spring and is expected to be complete before the next school term.