Novell Gears up for NetWare 5.0 Push

Novell Inc. is on the move. The network operating system giant announced a final shipping date for its long-awaited NetWare 5.0 operating system, increased the scalability of its integral NetWare Directory Services (NDS) by partnering with NetVision Inc. (Orem, Utah, <A HREF="http://www.netvisn.com/">www.netvisn.com</A>) and augmented NetWare’s overall manageability with the release of Zero Effort Networks (ZENetworks). Novell hopes that this spate of initiatives will staunch the flow of NetWare defectors and bring new users into the fold. The question remains, Is it too late?

Novell Inc. is on the move. The network operating system giant announced a final shipping date for its long-awaited NetWare 5.0 operating system, increased the scalability of its integral NetWare Directory Services (NDS) by partnering with NetVision Inc. (Orem, Utah, www.netvisn.com) and augmented NetWare’s overall manageability with the release of Zero Effort Networks (ZENetworks). Novell hopes that this spate of initiatives will staunch the flow of NetWare defectors and bring new users into the fold. The question remains, Is it too late?

By most accounts, NetWare 5.0 is armed and ready for the Internet world, bringing with it much-celebrated native support for IP-based networking, LDAP support and what Novell claims is the world’s fastest Java Virtual Machine and Java run-time environment.

But perhaps more important, NetWare 5.0 also includes Novell’s NDS, a comprehensive directory services offering that provides for simple object-oriented management of any end user or resource on a network. In recent months, Novell has been attempting to leverage NDS as a springboard to a greater enterprise presence, especially hyping NDS in the Windows NT arena, where NT’s complicated domain and trust models can frustrate IT managers.

NDS for Windows NT has its supporters. Robert Hoppe, a lead LAN analyst with United Health Care Inc. (Minneapolis), says the product greatly eases the management headache of Windows NT's domain infrastructure by centralizing management control. "I think it's obvious if you've worked with the two environments that it's far superior to the domain architecture, and I think that the domain architecture is kind of doomed for failure," Hoppe says.

Novell claims that its partnership with NetVision enables single-point administration and lower cost of network ownership through synchronization of each proprietary mail system’s user database with NDS for NDS customers using Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange, Windows NT or NetWare.

Analysts are speculating that after several years spent groping for a direction, Novell might finally be back on track with a cogent enterprise strategy with NetWare 5.0, NDS and manageability initiatives such as ZENetworks and ManageWise.

"IDC forecasts that NetWare will be part of the corporate network infrastructure for quite some time to come," says Dan Kusnetzky, director of worldwide operating environments research for International Data Corp. (IDC, Framingham, Mass.). "With NetWare 5, Novell is addressing customer requirements for IP-based networking and Java, while maintaining compatibility with [customers’]current networks."

Novell’s renewed buoyancy is welcome news to many IT managers. "I’m confident that Novell will stick with what they’ve recently been doing, which is concentrating on the high-end server market, and I don’t think that that’s going to change anytime." says Brandon Barclay, a Unix administrator with the Information Technology Services division of the Pennsylvania State University (PSU, University Park, Pa.).

PSU currently uses NetWare 4.11 in conjunction with SCO Unix and Linux boxes, and Barclay says that NDS makes networkwide management relatively simple -- even across heterogeneous systems. "It’s hard for me to believe that Microsoft, which is such a newcomer to this sort of thing, will produce a product [in Active Directory] with something as snappy and quick and easy to use as NetWare and NDS," he concludes.

But despite Novell’s recent enterprise face lift, an information technology officer with life-sciences and chemical company Rhone-Poulenc S.A. (Courbevoie, France) says that NetWare’s traditional reputation for rock-solid reliability may also serve to preclude its use in new implementations.

"I haven't investigated NetWare 5.0 thoroughly, but if 3.12 ain't broke, I’m not going to go ‘fixing’ it," he indicates. The Rhone-Poulenc manager uses NetWare 3.12 primarily to provide file and print services to 200 end users, and says that the older NetWare system performs reliably and without fault. At the same time, he says that he also uses Windows NT as an application server and will likely move to Windows NT 5.0 when it becomes available.

"I’m hoping for built-in quota managers and improved administrative utilities that NT currently lacks," he acknowledges, noting that NetWare 3.12 already provides such features.

It may be applications support that will ultimately be the deciding factor in Novell’s renewed enterprise thrust, says Craig Zacker, a former NetWare administrator and author of Special Edition: Using Intranetware from Que, a division of MacMillan Computer Publishing (Indianapolis, www.mcp.com). "Die-hard NetWare users who haven't yet switched to something else might be compelled to stay put," Zacker contends. However, NetWare will need to build its applications base to stay competitive.