There’s something good about a product that keeps focusing on its strong points, even when those strong points are not always fashionable. Accused of being “just a file and print server,” Novell Inc. made NetWare 6 the ultimate file and print system: Any client anywhere on the Internet can print, and use storage services, from a NetWare 6 server without loading a single byte of Novell’s proprietary Client32 software.
Based on what we saw during our testing, NetWare 6 is not just hyped-up NetWare 5.2. NetWare 6 adds enough features that Novell could have called it NetWare 6 Plus or NetWare 7.
New Features Abound
Novell’s new iPrint feature merges object-oriented Novell Distributed Print Services and support for Internet Printing Protocol to make printing as nearly idiot-proof as possible. Graphical mapping and design tools help managers build floor plans with printer icons (laser, colour, inkjet and dot matrix printers, as well as a copier icon). After importing a floor plan image, or drawing one, we could drag and drop printer icons onto the floor plan. Printer configuration settings are set without exposing users to the details. When users click on the printer icon, the iPrint browser plug-in determines whether the PC has the right printer driver. If not, the driver downloads in the background and appears in the printer list inside Windows. Help desk staffers will rejoice, since printer problems often rank first in call volume. The joy of never explaining a printer driver to a user may be worth the upgrade.
New in the synchronization game comes iFolder, Novell’s feature to end the “e-mail files to yourself” game of keeping the same documents available on multiple systems. Powered by the included Apache Web server Version 1.3, iFolder works in the background to equalize the documents in each system’s My Documents folder with an identical set on the server. Novell efficiently uses bandwidth by transferring only changed portions of files in 1KB blocks. All the file synching is coordinated by directory services authentication, and all necessary server components install automatically. In our tests, synching happened quickly and invisibly in the background at configurable intervals, triggered by a task-bar iFolder resident icon.
A browser plug-in client lets users control their files from any computer anywhere on the Internet. One of the encryption options lets you lock all files in transit, as well as when storing files on untrusted servers, such as at an ISP or on an iFolder service running on Microsoft Corp.’s Internet Information Server on Windows NT/2000. Novell limits iFolder to Microsoft Explorer 5.0 or 5.5, but our tests showed it working with Netscape 4.7 on Windows 2000 clients, but not Netscape 6.1. Tracked files changed on the server, such as in group directories, are synched down to users.
Novell File Access Packs turned our NetWare 6 server into a storage appliance for all other operating systems. Using the native file access methods for each operating system, Windows 9X/NT/2000, Macintosh, Unix and Linux clients can attach and use NetWare-based storage with their standard file connection software. With no NetWare client software necessary, Windows and Macintosh worked as advertised (a Linux system became a NetWare server for this review, but we have verified Novell’s NFS capabilities under multiple NetWare versions for over a decade).
It’s The Storage, Stupid
Novell reports storage needs double every six to nine months. Novell Storage Services (NSS) Version 3.0 with 64-bit addressing boosts NetWare server capacities into the terabyte range, with volumes able to hold 8 terabytes of data in up to 8 trillion files, and can keep 1 million files open concurrently (Novell claims this and demonstrates it at conferences, but we couldn’t check it here). Storage space, allocated from storage pools holding logical volumes, was increased on the fly without reformatting a disk. Tying NSS together with NetWare 6’s included two-node clustering means storage-area networks (SANs) are within the technical and financial reach of small and midsize companies. Managing pools, logical volumes and disk partitions isn’t exactly easy, but the browser-based management tools let you manage storage using clean utility screens. Safeguards are in place, and the NetWare 6 defaults will keep you out of trouble, but use caution. If you haven’t deleted the wrong volume yet, you will one day.
Our Compaq ProLiant 360 servers and StorageWorks Fibre Channel switch to the StorageWorks 4100 RAID Array needed a single Compaq hardware-specific NetWare module to support clustering and SAN creation. The learning curve for hardware disks, disk partitions controlled by storage pools, and carving logical volumes from those pools, is steep and slippery, but we only had to start over once to get it right. Instructions in beta releases don’t always match configuration screens.
NetWare 6 now includes two-node clustering at no extra charge (nodes 3 to 32 will have a price set soon). If you add a few SAN components or a shared SCSI disk subsystem, NetWare 6 moves into the high-availability storage realm.
Along with the Apache Web server running the NetWare utilities, Novell still includes the Netscape Enterprise Server, including its FTP and News server modules. The full installation loads both servers, letting two different Web servers run concurrently on the same NetWare 6 server hardware.
Novell Directory Services (NDS) Version 8.6 eases some object management tasks, and more functions work through the ConsoleOne utility. NDS also adds more detailed controls, but keeps the name eDirectory, which first appeared in NetWare 5.1. EDirectory now runs on all major operating system platforms and handles more object details than ever.
Management tool transitions from NetWare Administrator under Windows to ConsoleOne (Java) and NetWare Remote Manager (browser) are almost finished. Almost everything can be done in ConsoleOne and Remote Manager; yet a few details force administrators back to NetWare Administrator and the DOS-style C-Worthy screens.
Long the network administrator’s favourite, NetWare now offers two great advantages to every user on a network: no-hassle printing (iPrint), and seamless synchronization of all files between a network server and desktop, laptop and home machines (iFolder).
The solid beta performs well; our lab has never lost a file under NetWare beta or even alpha code, and that trend continues. A few user name inconsistencies for various management utilities notwithstanding, NetWare 6 should be ready for rollout this fall.
How We Did It
The NetWare 6 Beta software build 719a was loaded on a Pentium II machine with 340MB of RAM and a 4.3GB hard disk with a 3Com 3c509 10Base-T Ethernet card. Compaq provided a rack with four Compaq ProLiant 360 servers, each with dual Pentium III processors, 1GB of RAM, and a 9.1GB SCSI disk drive. A Compaq StorageWorks SAN Switch 16 (Fibre Channel) linked to a StorageWorks 4100 RAID array with six 9.1GB SCSI hard drives. For testing, we configured two servers and three of the RAID disks into SAN clusters, leaving us with four servers in two clusters, each cluster sharing three of the RAID disks. The network was linked through a LinkSys managed StackPro II 10/100 24-port hub. An existing NetWare 5.1 server on a Gateway2000 Pentium 120 with 128MB of RAM and 1.6GB hard disk served as a reference point for the upgrades in NetWare 6.
James Gaskin is a freelance writer specializing in technology. His latest of 12 books, Mastering NetWare 5.1, is available from Sybex. Visitwww.gaskin.com, or e-mail him at[email protected]. Gaskin is also a member of the Network World Global Test Alliance, a cooperative of the premier reviewers in the network industry, each bringing to bear years of practical experience on every review. For more Test Alliance information, including what it takes to become a member, go towww.nwfusion.com/alliance.