NetWare users have mixed feelings on OES

Novell Inc. insists it is not abandoning its NetWare install base with the upcoming release of its Open Enterprise Server (OES), but its message was greeted with both enthusiasm and skepticism when the firm stopped in Toronto on Thursday as part of a North American tour.

With OES, Novell has taken its products — dubbed NetWare Services — that run on NetWare and made them available for SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) 9. These include Novell iFolder, Novell Storage Services (NSS), NetStorage, iPrint, Virtual Office, Virtual Teams, eDirectory, Clustering, ZENworks, iManager, CIM and Client Experience. The versions of these packages shipped with OES will run on both NetWare and SLES.

For users looking to get a sneak peek at the product, OES is now available as part of an open beta program.

When the firm releases OES in February 2005, NetWare users can choose to upgrade to OES or migrate to SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) 9. There will be no NetWare 7, Novell said. OES is the next step. Additionally, the firm maintains that it will not abandon NetWare but just wants to give users a choice.

One user agrees. “This is the perfect marriage of an established secure networking system with an emerging standard,” said Willem P.H. Bagchus, president of Saturnus True Data Services Ltd. in Saint-Laurent, Que. He also thinks Novell’s OES will bring competition against Microsoft Corp. back into the market.

Louis Brezerakos, information systems administrator at D-Link Systems Inc. in Oakville, Ont. agreed.

“It’s nice to see that Novell is coming back,” he said.

But Bagchus and Brezerakos are mostly enthusiastic because they say NetWare is a stable, reliable platform and because now users have a choice to use elements of NetWare, such as eDirectory — which Bagchus considers as the best directory in the market — on Linux.

Additionally, OES makes migration from NetWare to SLES easy because users can install OES on SLES and port over their data, Novell said. But whether users will choose to stick with NetWare or move to Linux after OES comes out is still up in the air.

“I don’t know of an existing customer who is beating down the door to move to Linux but they are saying they like having the option,” said Ross Chevalier, chief technology officer at Novell Canada Ltd. in Markham, Ont.

OES will support the following combinations of NetWare and eDirectory: NetWare 4.x and NDS 6.21, NetWare 5.x and NDS 7.62c or NDS 8.58 and NetWare 6.x and eDirectory 8.7.0 and 8.7.1.

But one user is skeptical. “Novell has had a history of lacking focus and I’m seeing some inclinations towards it now,” said Tom Lockhart, IT Systems Manager at Hastings and Prince Edward Counties Health Unit in Belleville, Ont. The Health Unit currently uses NetWare 6 and 6.5.

However, he thinks Novell had to do something to revitalize itself in a market where there is waning interest in NetWare. In this case, Novell is putting its money on Linux.

“The NetWare kernel is considered dead by developers,” he said.

Lockhart said the Health Unit will upgrade its NetWare boxes over to OES — it is part of the Novell Maintenance program — but he isn’t ready to make the jump to Linux just yet. The Health Unit does run SUSE Linux on one server for Source Quench Introduced Delay (SQUID), an open source proxy server. He is concerned that some of the applications the Health Unit runs on NetWare won’t run on Linux. This means the Health Unit would have to purchase new licences for Linux-enabled versions of its software to run on SLES 9.

For example, a NetWare user who migrates to Linux would get a free upgrade copy of Novell GroupWise for Linux provided the user has signed up for the GroupWise maintenance program. However, if the user hasn’t signed up for the maintenance program they would have to purchase the package just like any other software, Chevalier said.

Additionally, Lockhart doesn’t buy in to Novell’s claims that a migration from a NetWare box to a Linux box has zero downtime.

“You will only have zero downtime provided you’re running a standard installation,” he said.

Novell will continue to sell SLES 9 separately from OES and the firm said it will support each version of its Linux for at least five years starting from the release date.

While Novell doesn’t currently offer any tools to migrate from Unix or other flavours of Linux onto OES, the upcoming operating system will include tools to migrate over from Windows. However, Chevalier said Novell will release a new version of its Nterprise Linux Services to allow users of Red Hat Inc.’s Linux to migrate to OES. It will ship at the same time as OES.

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