Novell bridges the OS gap with OES

Novell’s OES (Open Enterprise Server) 1.0 is a unique offering because it incorporates two vastly different operating systems and provides existing NetWare customers with a cleaner migration path to an open, standards-based application platform. OES enables the creation of server clusters that mix NetWare and Linux servers, and the vast majority of services that one expects from a Novell OS run equally well on either platform.

There is, however, one truck-size “gotcha” in this first pass. The lack of any sort of 64-bit support in OES is troubling and inexplicable, considering that one of the strongest points in favor of OES’s Linux core — SLES (Suse Linux Enterprise Server) — is its support for AMD64; Intel’s EM64T and Itanium; and IBM’s Power, zSeries, and S/390 architectures. Yes, I know S/390 is 31-bit.

In its initial release, OES is not much more than a label pasted over the core OS, whether it’s NetWare 6.5 with Support Pack 3 or SLES 9 with Support Pack 1. The OS choice determines how installation takes place, what services can be supported, and how clustered services can be moved from one OS to another. The big caveat with clusters is that any services that must run across mixed NetWare-SLES clusters have to be set up as NetWare-based services first. After that, services can move from one host to others, subject only to the limitations of the OS. Novell seems to be encouraging the use of clusters for migration through its inclusion of a two-server NetWare cluster license as part of the stock OES package. That’s a big plus in my book.

Setting up and using OES is a relatively straightforward process. One should expect to spend a few hours per server — assuming this is a bare-metal installation — and pay attention to any caveats from one’s hardware vendor, especially those regarding SLES configuration.

For those charged with the care and feeding of servers, I saw that the iManager and ConsoleOne tools managed the OES servers effectively and minimized the problems associated with mixed-OS deployments. Truthfully, I was expecting an experience not unlike that of viewing the tap-dancing elephant and being amazed that it worked at all. Instead, I found myself handing out style points.

OES is truly a unique animal. By giving customers a chance to combine the stability and performance of NetWare and the application friendliness of Linux, Novell has found a way to move customers into a more sustainable computing environment without forcing wrenching change that would drive some accounts into the arms of competing vendors.

OES 1.0 has some rough spots, but it’s hardly a kludge. When Novell adds support for advanced 64-bit hardware OES will be a killer operating system. Not as pretty as Mac OS X, not as well-marketed as Solaris, but a platform with nothing but growth ahead of it.

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