Novell to unveil remote-office appliance

Novell Inc. this week is expected to unveil a product that addresses the challenge of installing, configuring and managing networks in remote branch offices where IT professionals are scarce, and dedicated communication links are difficult and expensive to maintain.

Nterprise Branch Office software installs on standard servers in branch offices, where it coordinates the management, communication and protection of files over the Internet with the data center in corporate headquarters.

The offering joins two other products recently introduced from start-ups Web Office Inc. and DiskSites Inc. that also use Internet connections to replace more expensive communications links and coordinate file transfers.

Web Office’s Virtual Private Storage Network (VPSN) is an operating system/hardware/software combination that lets IT administrators set up, configure and manage remote network gear. It also can be installed as a stand-alone network for small businesses. Storage vendor DiskSite’s Wide Area Network Attached Storage software is aimed at distributed environments that need to consolidate storage from difficult-to-manage remote-office file servers to move it to the corporate data center, where the data can be protected.

Analysts say the move toward centralizing remote administration over IP is a logical one, spurred by reduced IT spending, and a desire to consolidate resources and redirect IT talent to more important tasks.

“The value of this technology is obvious,” says Dan Tanner, research director at Aberdeen Group Inc. “These packages not only coordinate the files in remote offices that might be on lower-speed lines, but centralize administration for locations that don’t have IT-trained personnel.”

Novell’s offering

Novell’s Nterprise Branch Office appliance connects PCs, printers and other devices to the corporate network in new branch offices to the central network. It also replaces file servers or NAS devices in remote locations that have previously been unmanaged. It uses the disk storage of the commodity server to store files and information about users and network devices. This data is then synchronized with the file server in the corporate location as changes occur, thus protecting it and providing automated back-up capability.

Branch Office requires personnel to physically wire the Ethernet network and install communications technology at the remote site. Web Office’s VPSN, by contrast, includes connections for workstations, an integrated VPN and an attachment for a printer.

Branch Office works only with NetWare 5.1 and 6 networks, but will be able to work in Windows NT/2000 or Linux networks in the latter half of next year, according to Jeff Hawkins, vice president of product development at Novell.

It is managed from Novell’s eDirectory and from a Web-based console utility. Included is software that lets network managers configure several servers at once and distribute them to remote locations.

Novell’s product uses an open source utility called rsync to synchronize changes within branch office files to the corporate file server. While the product uses Secure Sockets Layer and encryption and compression to protect communications, it uses the proprietary Novell Modular Authentication Service and the Novell International Cryptographic Infrastructure Interface for authentication or backups to the central office. Novell says it might need to use other software when the platform is extended for use on Linux and Win 2000/NT.

The remote office appliance supports Microsoft Corp.’s Common Information File System, the Unix/Linux Network File System, Novell’s NetWare Core Protocol, HTTP, FTP and Apple Computer Inc.’s AppleTalk Filing Protocol.