March 16, 1998Netware's Window Of Opportunity
Users of Novell's operating system will soon have a real alternative in Microsoft's NT 5. But Novell's NetWare 5 will have features users say they want.
By Monua Janah
he next nine months could be crucial in determining which operating system runs most of the world's corporate networks: Novell's NetWare 5 is due out mid-year, while Microsoft says its competing product, Windows NT Server 5, will debut at year's end. If all goes as planned, that leaves Novell six months to convince NetWare users it can deliver an Internet Protocol-based o perating system that includes the core networking capabilities that have made NetWare the dominant network operating system.
Initial reaction to test versions of NetWare 5 has been positive, particularly to the new IP support. Now customers are anxiously awaiting on-time, bug-free delivery of NetWare 5. Beyond that, they are looking fora steady supply of add-on products that let them leverage NetWare's directory advantage over NT.
"If Novell is able to ship on time, and Microsoft continues its trend of missing dates or dropping functionality, more and more people will come back to Novell," says Tim Talbot, director of technology deployment at PHH Vehicle Management Services, a Hunt Valley, Md., auto-leasing company. A solid NetWare 5 "will help Novell considerably," says Talbot, who has seen other IT managers move to NT only to come back to NetWare because of its strengths as a networking platform.
"This is a crucial junction for Novell," says Todd Chipman, an analyst at Giga Inform ation Group. "If Novell can show that the NetWare product line has a future, that it's an open interoperable network operating system that can support the Internet Protocol, it could stall some of the blind acceptance of NT."
Novell will take steps in this direction next week at its BrainShare user conference, where it plans to distribute the third test release of NetWare 5. The company also will outline plans for NetWare 6 to be a bigger, faster network operating system, running on 64-bit machines. Novell is also expected to announce alliances next week with Compaq, Oracle, and possibly others.
Last week, as Novell prepared for its annual conference, it's chief financial officer, James Tolonen, resigned, and a key NetWare marketing executive, Coleman Barney, took a leave of absence.
However, Novell is in better financial shape than it was a year ago. After two quarters of sharp losse s and a restructuring last summer that included layoffs of 1,000 people--18% of its work force--Novell beat Wall Street's profit forecasts in its latest quarter, ended Jan. 31, with $15 million profit on sales of $252 million. Although those results were down from a year earlier, it was Novell's second consecutive quarter of profitability.
NetWare's sales rose through most of last year, though not as fast as NT Server's. In the first nine months of 1997, Novell sold nearly 700,000 new server licenses, bringing its total to 3.8 million and keeping it the largest server software supplier in the world.
Early test versions of NetWare 5 bode well for its prospects (see story, " Novell's IP Gets Real "). TCP/IP support tops the list of important new features in version 5. Nearly two-thirds of IT managers testing NetWare 5 cited TCP/IP support as their top reason for deploying the new version, according to a recent Infor-mationWeek survey (see chart below).
NetWare 5 will give users the option of running either IP or Novell's proprietary IPX protocol. In addition, a migration gateway feature provides the tools to transition from IPX to IP. "The market has spoken, and TCP/IP has won," says Novell CEO Eric Schmidt of the move to IP, a decision that was bitterly contested inside the company. "Bringing out TCP/IP is catch-up--it's something we should have done four years ago."
Consolidating on IP means simpler network administration and lower costs for users. Network bandwidth is used more efficiently, human resources are freed up, and routine administration and troubleshooting become less onerous. Applications that use IP can be integrated into a NetWare network without needing the additional overhead of encapsulating IP packets into IPX.
That will be the case for New York law firm Rogers & Wells. "We're running a lot of applicat ions that generate IP traffic, and we'll roll out more and more new applications that are optimized for IP," says Milton Morgan, technical services supervisor at the law firm, which plans to use NetWare 5 as its basic networking platform. "Right now, we still have to log on using IPX to authenticate to Novell Directory Services. With NetWare 5, I can run a cleaner network, and our people need to be trained on one protocol only."
For JSP International, a polypropylene maker in Malvern, Pa., the ability to do native IP with NetWare 5 will free resources. "IPX is a bit too chatty, a bit too much of a bandwidth hog," says Dan Strohl, JSP's IS manager. "We have to implement IP at our desktops to let users get to the database server. If we have to run IP anyway, I'd rather save the overhead and not have to run both protocols."
NetWare 5 will get users closer to Intel's 64-bit chip. It has a faster, rewritten kernel and a new file system. The Novell Storage Service 64-bit subsystem can handle files of up to 8 terabytes, compared with 2 Gbytes previously.
"If you're mounting a very large volume of data, the NetWare server can take 15 or 20 minutes," says Morgan of Rogers & Wells. "In NetWare 5, very large volumes will mount in minutes. That means the server is down for a shorter time."
This is a necessary step, says Arthur Johnston, software systems specialist at IBM Global Services, which sells NetWare support services as part of an IBM alliance with Novell. "When NetWare was first released, everyone mostly had 5-, 10-, 30-Mbyte disks," he says. "Now, everybody has 12, 18 Gbytes. We can make up a 100-Gbyte volume quite easily." With volumes of that size, "Novell's existing file technology caused that to be a very slow process at mount time," Johnston adds. "The new subsystem cuts down the mount time to seconds."
More powerful file and print capabilities are key for Mark Hil l, an account director at CSSI, which runs Bell Helicopter's server and desktop systems in Las Colinas, Texas. "It's been the best data and print server there is," says Hill. "NT takes a whole lot more horsepower, and the cost of maintaining it is higher. We have two people managing our servers, which support 4,000 clients. It would take a staff of probably seven or eight people to maintain anywhere near that number of NT servers."
Still, Bell Helicopter is committed to NT Workstation desktops and is testing Novell's Z.E.N.Works software to help manage them from NDS.
Other new features in NetWare 5 include improvements intended to strengthen it as an application server, such as virtual memory and improved memory protection--features NT, IBM's OS/2, and other platforms have had for a long time. A new graphical user interface is intended to simplify user interaction with NetWare servers.
Also, Novell is enhancing Java support in the network operating system. The third test release wil l offer expanded class libraries and network-management tools written completely in Java that will allow remote management of any client on the network from any NetWare server, say industry sources.
But customers say Java support isn't a factor in deciding whether to go with NetWare 5. "There's nothing out there that takes advantage of server-side Java that I have any interest in using," says JSP's Strohl. "It's a great feature, but until they can show me an application that takes advantage of it, why do it?"
Also, developers are cautious about server-based Java applets. "Before we do server-side Java, we need to understand the performance implications," says Rafiq Mohammadi, chief technical officer at NetRight Technologies Inc., which makes document-management software.
Though Novell CEO Schmidt beat the Java drum very hard last year in his first months on the job, lately he's backed off. "Our mission is to allow Java server-side apps to run on NetWare," Schmidt says. "Java is the right technical answer for developers who develop on top of NetWare, but it's a new thing for Novell, and we should be patient."
Longer term, Novell intends to compete in the application server market, says Schmidt. "We are improving support for people who want to write NetWare Loadable Modules," he says. "Is this going to displace Microsoft in application capture? I don't think so. The average consumer finds the best product for the mission. What we do is provide a very high-performance, intelligent network platform."
Novell has also added products that leverage NetWare 5's core strengths. Recent examples include Border Manager for managing the LAN-WAN interconnect and Novell Directory Services for NT, a version of Novell's directory service that lets NT Server be managed from within NDS. Thus far, NT hasn't had a scalable directory. However, Microsoft plans to ship a directory with NT 5.
NDS has also been ported to some brands of Unix. IBM recently shipped a version of NDS and ot her NetWare services on AIX, joining HP-UX and the Santa Cruz Operation's UnixWare. Novell is working on a port to Sun Microsystems' Solaris, but that effort appears to have slowed. "We haven't decided whether we should do this as an additional prod-uct," says Michael Simpson, Novell's director of marketing for information access. "With NDS for NT, we first provided the integration, and then the second version is the actual port to NT. In some situations, it makes sense to do the port; in others, we need not do a complete port."
NDS is a long way from being the universal directory Novell hoped it would be. No Unix vendors are committed to it as a directory of choice. The versions that ship on AIX, HP-UX, and UnixWare aren't compliant with the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol, the popular TCP/IP-based standard. Sun Microsystems and IBM have begun shipping their own LDAP directories, and are pushing them as the products for their customers to standardize on.
The big criticism of NDS has b een that enterprisewide applications tied to the directory haven't materialized. But, used in conjunction with some of Novell's new software, NDS can dramatically ease software distribution, desktop configuration, and remote-user issues.
PHH Vehicle Management Services has used NDS and several utilities to provide automatic user profiling. "Users can log on to any workstation, and it will look the same no matter where they are," says PHH's Talbot. "We had a user ask for a reporting tool, and we were able to deliver it in no time."
Talbot says he is going to upgrade to Z.E.N.Works, software Novell will ship next quarter and include with NetWare 5 that will provide more powerful remote-management and configuration capabilities. PHH also plans to move to NetWare 5. "A move to NT was talked about, but we looked at the stability of our NetWare environment, and it is extremely stable and scalable."
Novell will use the last half of the year to convince PHH and other customers to stay with NetWare. The new version appears to be giving IT managers the features and capabilities they need to convince higher-ups to stick with Novell. But they say they need as much help as they can get from Novell.
"You're always justifying NetWare to the nontechnical people, because they see and hear Microsoft everywhere," says Ed Wilk, IS manager at WHDH-TV in Boston. "But once you point out the technical features, it makes sense to them."
Still, longtime customers continue to defect. Louis London Inc., a St. Louis advertising agency, is moving to NT over the next few years. "I still have a place for NetWare in my heart, but it's certainly going to be leaving the enterprise here," says Joel House, Louis London's IS director. "We needed more than file-and-print. We needed application servers and Web servers. I couldn't see us doing that with NetWare."
Meanwhile, NT 5.0 is many months away and NetWare 5 is several months off. Either company's ship date could slip, and there is no guarante e that either will deliver a solid, bug-free product. For now, Novell has a shot at maintaining its lead in the server software market.
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