NetWare 5.0: Worth the upgrade

With last month's release of NetWare 5.0, Novell Inc. raised the bar in terms of functionality delivered out of the box. The popular network operating system offers faster performance, several new and useful Internet features, and enhanced administration tools that together put it a notch above the competition.

While Microsoft Corp. continues to release beta copies of the next version of Windows NT, Novell has shipped its product with enhancements and options that aren't planned for NT 5.0. Specifically, NetWare 5.0 includes enhanced NetWare Directory Services (NDS), support for open standards, including the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), and bundled database and World Wide Web server software.

We took a quick look at NetWare 5.0 and outlined the highlights in a previous issue [FCW, Sept. 28]. After several weeks of evaluating the software, we wanted to offer federal network administrators more details about the product and advice about whether they should upgrade.

Overall, we found NetWare 5.0 to be a worthwhile upgrade for current NetWare users. The new features, coupled with enhanced performance and bundled software, make it a solid choice on which to base your local-area network.

If you choose to upgrade, you'll find that migrating to Version 5.0 is nothing like the trauma of moving from NetWare 3.x to NetWare 4.x. The latest NDS structure essentially is the same, although a new client needs to be installed. In fact, the benefits of the new release far outweigh any minor inconveniences you may encounter.

Before deciding to upgrade, be sure to consider the hardware requirements for servers running NetWare 5.0. You'll need an Intel Corp. Pentium-based server with at least 64M of RAM, 550M of disk space, a CD-ROM that can read ISO-9660 CD-ROMs and a VGA-compatible display adapter. You'll also need to decide what applications you want to run on your server, such as the bundled Oracle8 database from Oracle Corp. or the Netscape Communications Corp. FastTrack Web server. Both of those applications require a substantial amount of memory, meaning you'll need at least 128M of memory for the server.

One good reason to upgrade is improved performance. NetWare 5.0's revamped kernel fully supports multiprocessor environments and applies a load-balancing technique to evenly distribute applications across multiple processors. New memory-management algorithms efficiently allocate memory to requesting applications on demand. In fact, NetWare 5.0 has the ability to directly access up to 4G of RAM.

Another performance enhancer is NetWare 5.0's ability to run an Internet Protocol-only network, which makes it easier to interconnect disparate hardware or physically separated networks.

The only area that doesn't measure up in terms of performance is the new ConsoleOne Java-based graphical user interface (GUI), which has limited functionality and runs rather slowly. You'll probably still need to use NetWare Administrator, NDS Manager or ManageWise for many management and administration tasks.

ConsoleOne attempts to give you the ability to perform tasks at the console that you normally would accomplish using the NWADMIN program from a client workstation. However, it ran substantially slower on our 200 MHz Pentium-class server compared with performing the same functions from a similarly configured client workstation.

New Features

NetWare 5.0 is chock full of new features, many to support integration with the Internet. For example, NDS now supports Dynamic Host Control Protocol, which is a way to dynamically allocate IP addresses to individual workstations. In fact, administrators can manage objects for DHCP servers and workstations right from the NetWare administration console. NDS now also supports server management for the Internet's Domain Naming System (DNS).

NetWare's two biggest tasks always have been file and print services. With Version 5.0, Novell has introduced new features that enhance the functionality and performance of both services. Novell Storage Services (NSS) is the new name for everything connected with file services. Many common tasks that took a lot of time are significantly faster with NSS. For example, mounting large volumes, which used to take several minutes, is about 10 times faster.

NetWare treats each disk partition as a single volume and allows you to manage files either individually or globally for the entire volume. In previous versions, NetWare would build a table of information about each volume when you mounted it for access— a process that could take several minutes for large disk partitions. With the new version of NSS, this process is greatly improved and requires fewer system resources to accomplish.

In the print services area, Novell has introduced Novell Distributed Print Services. Developed in conjunction with printer manufacturers Hewlett-Packard Co. and Xerox Corp., NDPS makes managing printers a simple task. For example, NDPS provides automatic printer discovery and configuration along with automatic download of print drivers.

The NetWare Administrator program has been upgraded to support the DHCP and DNS management features. An add-on lets you manage your Oracle database right from the NWADMIN console.

Easy Installation

Administrators will find the installation process relatively straightforward. We loaded NetWare 5.0 from scratch, but if your machine can boot from a CD-ROM, you'll be able to load NetWare 5.0 from the distribution CD. However, the CD-ROM drive must support the El Torito specifications, which were written by Phoenix Technologies Ltd. and IBM Corp. to describe bootable CD-ROMs.

NetWare 5.0 requires a 50M boot partition and a 500M system partition. The new installation program uses a Java-based GUI to make the process easier. Many of the installation options use an auto-detect feature to present you with a list of choices based on the environment detected. A Novell migration wizard guides you through the upgrade process while preserving your existing bindery and file system data.

Once the network operating system has been loaded, you must separately install Oracle8 and FastTrack. The Oracle8 installation uses the standard NetWare installation utility, while FastTrack must be installed from a client machine running the 32-bit NetWare client that ships with NetWare 5.0.

While installing the client software, we encountered an error message informing us that the NetWare 5.0 client would not run on the original shipping version of Windows 95. Instead, we had to download the Service Pak 1 update from Microsoft's Web site (www.microsoft.com/windows/downloads/bin/W95setup.exe) and install it before loading the NetWare 5.0 client.

-- Ferrill is a principal engineer at Avionics Test & Analysis Corp. at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. He can be reached at pferrill@fwb.gulf.net.

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AT A GLANCE

NetWare 5.0Novell Inc.(801) 321-4272www.novell.com

Price and Availability: A single shrink-wrapped copy from ASAP Software Express Inc. includes a server copy and five user licenses for $920. ASAP offers additional licensing options ranging from five to 500 users. Those prices range from $765 to $20,695. ASAP expects NetWare 5.0 to appear on its General Services Administration schedule very soon. Also, Novell has three vendors— ASAP, GE Capital IT Solutions Federal Systems and Software House International— that offer agencies negotiable individual deals through GSA Master License Agreements.

Remarks: NetWare 5.0 represents a significant upgrade to the venerable NetWare operating system, with many new performance and feature enhancements. The installation process is straightforward, while the migration wizards provide an easy way to upgrade existing systems.

Final Score: Very Good

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