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Posted on 2004-09-16
Items to consider in determining what server upgrade strategy to use at the Oak Lawn Public Library Facility
Don Hocutt - Network Manager
Since 1994 I have been a Novell Netware Certified Engineer. I have worked with the 3.x, 4.x and 5.x versions of Novell Netware. In most all cases the Netware server functioned as a file server. That is a storage location for data files. The exception was some Netware 4.x servers that hosted an application called Paradigm, which ran on top of Pervasive SQL 7. Paradigm included DOS accounting modules which would run only on Netware servers at the time. In this unique situation Windows NT was NOT an option. In this case the decision to use Netware was application driven.
I am also currently a Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator. I am certified to administer Windows 2000 servers. I have worked with Windows NT servers, Windows 2000 Servers and recently have received MCSE training on the Windows 2003 server products.
When comparing Novell and Microsoft please realize there are two aspects of each vendor’s product to be aware of: The server operating system (OS) and the directory service. Currently Novell offers Netware 6.5 as its server operating system and e-directory as its directory service. Microsoft offers Windows 2003 as its server operating system and Active Directory as its directory service. You can think of the directory service as the software that has control over users, printers, groups, organizational units and all the resources in the Novell tree or Microsoft domain. Often either the server OS or the Directory Service is really the topic when referring to Microsoft or Novell. Also there can be different flavors such as standard and enterprise editions of the product.
During the last few years I have observed the steady decline of market share devoted to Novell Netware products. My involvement with Novell Netware has been diminished.
A large percentage of the customer base has switched to Microsoft NT, Microsoft 2000 and most recently to Microsoft Windows 2003 server systems. In 1995 Netware’s market share was about 53% versus Microsoft’s 7%. In 2001 Netware had dropped to 12% and
Microsoft had rose above 50%. At one time Novell Netware enjoyed an 80% market share.
The lost of market share by Novell has little to do with the technical aspects of its operating systems which are superior in some specific environments. However, superior marketing and easy integration with the dominant workstation platforms such as Windows 98, Windows 2000, and Windows XP has given Microsoft Windows servers a big advantage in small, medium and even very large sized businesses. Many consulting companies have been hired to recommend corporate wide networking strategies and have selected Microsoft Windows servers and Microsoft Active Directory to host file storage and business applications. They ask the question - Why buy two operating systems? Netware server and Microsoft workstations some times are at odds and don’t work well together, although most of the technical issues have been resolved. This often requires the staff to be trained in two distinctly different systems which offer no real advantages to the corporate mission. Programmers that develop applications find it more economical to develop for only one operating system. Often a company buys or converts to one homogeneous server/client system, and thus Microsoft has gained huge popularity. Never the less, some businesses and municipalities did convert to Novell Netware because of frustration with Windows NT which used a flat directory service design. Setting up multiple domains in large organizations with Windows NT was ridiculously complex. The new Windows 2000/2003 Active Directory has come a long way in closing the advantage Novell had in large systems. The Oak Lawn Library has little, if zero need for multiple trees or domains so the question of who supports very large environments better is somewhat moot.
I want to point out that the current Novell Netware upgrade is 6.5. This will be the last operating system customers can purchase under that brand name. However, by late December, 2004 Novell 7.0, called Open Enterprise Server (OES) an entirely new operating system based on the Netware or Linux kernel will be released. Netware will not be sold in 2005. This will be a radical departure from the Netware that has been an industry staple for 20 plus years. Novell’s strategy is to compete with Microsoft at the server level as well as the workstation level by supporting both Microsoft and Linux based workstations. Novell’s latest move to embrace Linux will hopefully in Novell’s view help increase the chances that customers will transition toward the company’s Linux products rather than jump ship to Microsoft. Linux is growing in popularity. The question is will Novell succeed in its new strategy? Industry experts will say that is an open question. Using judgments and comparisons done with previous versions of Novell and Microsoft operating systems does not necessarily prepare one for predicting which operating system will be the right choice for the future.
Let’s look at what services the Oak Lawn Public Library needs from its servers and directory services.
OLPL Current Configuration
Our legacy servers are two Novell Netware 5.1 mini tower servers. They provide most of the file storage for our staff. They also provide the directory service called NDS. OLPL users login and are authenticated as valid users by the Novell Netware tree. The servers do little else than provide authentication, file security and file storage. They do NOT host any applications at this time. The second Novell Netware server prior to my arrival had been relegated to providing only a few print queues that aren’t being used any longer. I had it down for a week and no one noticed.
The hosting of the three vital library applications are left to two Microsoft Windows 2000 rack mounted servers. The IMAIL (e-mail) server and the WEB server are hosted by a Microsoft Windows 2000 server and the SAM server is also hosted by a Microsoft Windows 2000 server. These servers are considered stand-alone for they are not members of a Windows domain.
The prior network manager tried to upgrade the Novell Netware server hardware by purchasing two new DELL rack mounted servers. However, the Dell servers were designed to operate only with Novell Netware 6.5 and later software or Windows 2000/2003. So here we’re faced with two issues. Novell Netware 5.1 is going to be obsolete in the future and we have two new DELL servers we can’t load Netware 5.1 on anyway. As a practical matter the two Dell servers in question are currently running Windows 2003 server software in a test status. We are running a Microsoft Active Directory (oaklawnlib.local) domain and have verified the two newer DELL servers are in excellent operating condition. One Dell server is a RAID 5 configuration and the other Dell server is a RAID 1 configuration.
In my estimation we are basically a Microsoft Windows shop with one Novell Netware File server. One might ask the question: Do we convert to a Novell/Linux open source environment or do we upgrade to Windows 2003?
New Microsoft licensing requirements have angered many Microsoft customers and encouraged them to look for alternatives. However, as an academic institution, the up grade is very reasonable. A study by The Yankee Group shows the cost of migrating from Windows to Linux is three to four times as much as upgrading from one Windows version to another.
What is the next step?
Do we purchase the most recent Novell OES server software and user license or do we purchase the most recent Microsoft Windows server software and user license?
Of course, Unix is an available option but at this time it is not being considered for a number of reasons.
Of course one might say “figure out the technical merits of each and pick the best one”.
That is easier said than done. Go to any technical web site and ask that question and it makes the recent political conventions look tame in comparison. Both systems work and work well. However, it comes down to cost, corporate culture, training, and what legacy systems and applications are currently being used to determine what system is selected.
Let’s examine these factors at the Oak Lawn Public Library
Network Operating System Performance and Stability:
Yes we are using Netware for file storage. But that can be done just as easily and efficiently with Windows. Why? Because we do NOT put high performance, heavy stress loads on our file storage system. So no matter what technical performance measurements one vendor might argue for their system the point is moot in our environment. Besides the heavier loads incurred at the library are already running on Microsoft based servers. It is my judgment that both Novell and Microsoft can well support the file server functionality required at the library.
Stability and Reliability:
Novell Netware has a great reputation for never having to fiddle with its servers. They are always up and continue to run. This was a disadvantage for Microsoft in the Windows NT days. However with Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 that issue is not a concern.
Our most vital servers are already running Windows with reliable results.
Both Novell and Microsoft directory services have redundant server capability in the operating system and directory services design. If one server fails the other server is available to authenticate users and provide services. This is done thru replication where objects are copied to the other servers automatically.
Security has been in the news and Microsoft has been hit hard. One might argue that Novell is more secure by far. However, our most vulnerable servers, the ones the public have access to (in a limited fashion) are already running on Microsoft servers. If our routers and firewalls are configured properly, anti-virus, anti-spy ware is installed and Microsoft upgrades are applied this issue is mitigated greatly.
User Login Interface:
Currently each work station has a Novell Client loaded on the Microsoft based workstation to allow the user to find and authenticate to the Novell tree. In a Microsoft domain this client is a native Microsoft client and presumably would offer a more reliable connection. The user would log in to a Microsoft domain much the same way they log in to a Novell tree. The user login interface change is extremely minimal.
The Novell Netware 6.5 or Novell OES uses, like Microsoft 2003, an X.500 LDAP based directory service. Novell Netware engineers would argue that Netware has the superior directory service and Microsoft Windows engineers would argue the new Windows Active Directory has leaped beyond Netware. Early on when Microsoft was making inroads to the dominance of Netware, Windows NT the new guy on the block had some neat features that Netware did not have. It also lacked several important features that a more mature Netware had incorporated into its design. In its next release Netware added improved features similar to Microsoft and Microsoft in its next release added improved features similar to Netware. A never ending battle of one-up-man ship, however, for what the library needs in its environment the question is of little importance, both directories easily provide what is required now and in the foreseeable future.
One of the touted advantages with Netware 6.5 and above it its e-directory. When used in a very large infrastructure it promises to be superior to Windows Active Directory. Even if that is in fact the case we do not have a large infrastructure environment.
Advantages of open source:
Novell OES has moved decisively in this direction. It helps the system be more flexible and works easier with other systems. Novell is counting on the open source, Linux strategy for its very survival. Recently I went to a major book store in Orland Park, Illinois to purchase a Novell Netware book. While there seemingly was every computer book under the sun there, no Novell Netware books were on the shelf. I believe Linux and open source are emerging as the major challengers to Microsoft dominance.
Microsoft Software for the most part runs only on Microsoft systems.
Support and Training of Staff:
Here Windows has a huge advantage. Technical support staff must know a great deal about Windows systems. There is a much easier learning curve to gain knowledge about the latest Microsoft Windows servers and directory services. On the other hand, the local community college does not offer any current Novell Netware training. The only training available for Novell is via expensive private firms or a few junior colleges at great distance. A few Linux classes are being offered and are growing in popularity.
Training for OES might be delayed until spring of 2005. If OES is selected I will most definitely need OES training on the newer Novell directory services. In contrast, Moraine Valley Community College currently offers an extensive Microsoft Windows 2003 training series that last for 22 weeks at approximately $4,000 per student. I have only 6 weeks to go in that series which has already been paid for. My two colleagues, Joe Voves and Jill DeRobertis have both mention they would select Microsoft if given a vote since they have much more experience with the Windows environment.
If we moved to a Windows Active Directory each staff work station would be reconfigured to use the Microsoft client instead of the Novell client. The change would be mostly in appearance to the user. Since a plan is in the works to change all workstations to DHCP (automatic) IP addressing this change could be done at the same time.
Included with any upgrade would be comprehensive review of user logins, groups, folders, files, and rights and permissions to those files. Right now file security is not exactly where we would want it. That work is still on-going.
The cross over to Active Directory can be achieved without any significant library trauma. The upgrade to Netware OES might be more problematic in that we don’t quite know the steps we would have to take at this time. Please rest assured we would do our up most to make it painless as possible in either case.
The purchase of 100 user licensing and for Netware 6.5 or (OES) server is: approximately $4,700.00 for non-profit entities.
The purchase of 100 user licensing and for Windows 2003 server is: $7.00 per user cal or approximately $800.00 for academic institutions.
Admittedly I am more comfortable working with Windows 2003 Active Directory. I am not trained or familiar with Novell Netware 6.5 or Open Enterprise Server (OES). However as a computer technology professional I welcome the opportunity to be trained in Novell’s new server OS and what changes have been made from NDS to e-directory.
I hope my evaluation of the merits of choosing one system over the other was not bias one way or the other. In fact a comprehensive study by an outside organization might be warranted if we were a large multi-domain, multi-tree enterprise. However we are not and the most graceful path to follow is to incorporate our current Windows 2000 production servers with our Windows 2003 test servers and function as a Windows Active Directory shop.
To select Novell’s OES is not simply a server upgrade but a completely new direction to move in. Perhaps it offers more open sourced technology innovation but at greater cost, effort, and peril to the library. Do we want to be on the cutting edge of Novell’s new open source strategy? I do not think there is a compelling argument to do so right now. Perhaps in the future with more training and new Library requirements to meet we might be moved to take another look at a more mature Novell OES system.