David Strom

NMS: Barely Beyond Belief

By David Strom

Novell's NetWare Management System software version 2.0 is a crazy-quilt collection of

utilities that has more in common with your aging aunt's attic than a neatly organized and

understandable toolbox. There are so many individual pieces that installing and maintaining

all of them is almost a full-time job in itself.  Is this a product ready for the enterprise? Not

yet. Maybe another year and lots more work on the underlying NetWare programming

structures will make NMS ready for most networking mortals. Until then, we suggest sticking

with a combination of Network General's Sniffers and Frye's Netware Management tools: they

cost less and are easier to use. {CHECK}

Sure, there are things that NMS can do that other network management products can't -- such

as listing all the NLMs running in each server at the click of a button, or viewing the last

day's worth of network statistics. These might be compelling reasons for corporate networkers

to get the product -- if the product were on more solid ground.

Part of the issue is that NMS is composed of many different components, and understanding

what each does is critical to installing it correctly and getting your money's worth from all

this software. There is a roadmap (called the "Installation Guide") that does a fair job of

showing you a flow chart of how to install NMS. But the specific dependancies of which

products use which versions of which NLMs and their associated supporting files is, as they

say in most graduate school mathematics texts, left as an exercise for the reader. 

Indeed, the goal of installing NMS to monitor your network and keep both NMS and your

network healthy is really secondary to another goal: that of forcing you to upgrade your entire

Novell product line to the latest revisions of various software components. This is because

NMS touches just about every nook and cranny of your network, and is incompatible with

anything older than the software du jour. Got some old NLMs? Running a vintage version of

NetWare 3.11? Have some old LANTerns lurking about? Not to worry: you'll have to upgrade

them all before playing the NMS game.

So let's look at the NMS family album. There are two types of members: software for your

Windows client that runs the NMS operators' console and a series of NLMs that gets loaded

on your various NetWare servers. There is a variety of documentation to support this

software: multiple little red manuals, release notes galore, a README file called NMS.WRI

in Windows Write format, and even a huge Postscript file that contains the entire

documentation of the NMS database structure. Hint: Start with NMS.WRI, the on-line readme

file first, then read the various paper release notes on each module, then go to the "Analyzing

your Network" red book. You should have a good idea of what the product does and its

limitations from this excursion. If you think you'll become a third-party NMS developer, print

out the database document, otherwise save a few trees and skip it. 

The Windows console is relatively straightforward, although the installation routines copy all

the software to the server and set up icons to run it that way. This means get your mapped

drives straight before you do the install, otherwise you'll have a lot of adjusting to do

afterwards. The benefit here is that your console can be moved about on your network quite

easily, since all the software is server-based.

Setting up the console is no easy task. First and foremost you'll need the latest VLM client

software. The old NETX stuff won't work, and the version of the VLMs that were shipping

on the original 4.0 disks won't either. [CHECK].  Luckily, Novell supplies this software for

you as part of the NMS package. Next, you'll hopefully have a Windows client machine that

has lots of RAM: Novell recommends 12 Mb, we suggest 16 Mb, although we got reasonable

performance with 8 Mb and a fast hard disk. One disappointment: many times we would have

liked to use the power of Windows' clipboard to cut and paste information from an NMS

screen into our word processor or spreadsheet. No can do: these most basic operations are not

available. [CHECK]. Novell should send its programmers back to Windows school.

When it comes to the NLMs it is more confusion. There are five different parts to the puzzle,

and each part comes with a series of NLMs and configuration and supporting software, some

of which are duplicated or depend on others. There is no single unified installation procedure,

although most start from the Windows console and copy files out over the network. For this

reason, we suggest installing NMS on a test server first, and preferably one that mirrors the

same version of NetWare running on one of your production servers. 

There is a set called NetExplorer that discover IP and IPX devices on your network and send

this information to the console, another set called NetExplorer Plus that has captures

additional connectivity information, another set called the Management Agent Software that

send information about server performance, another set that embody the LANalyzer agent

software, and another set that embody Hub Services management software. NetExplorer has

to be installed on a single server in the enterprise, LANalyzer on a single server per segment

that you want to monitor, the Management Agent gets put on each server that you wish to

monitor, and NetExplorer Plus has to go on every server in the enterprise. Hub Services gets

installed only in those places where NetWare servers have hub cards (such as the ones from


Purchasing these components is confusing too: some of the software is part of the NMS base

package, others are separate components sold in server-based units. The agent and

LANanalyzer options should be part of the base package, since you'll undoubtedly buy them

if you want to do much with NMS. Both of these modules provide a nice "dashboard"

functionality to the console that allows you to monitor the last 24 hours' worth of server

statistics in real-time: something few network management products provide. For example,

you can see at a glance how your bandwidth utilization has changed over the last day, or

statistics on packet rates. What you can't see is any more than a 24 hour history, however.


All of this points out both the power and problem of using NetWare as the platform to

manage itself: while it is exciting to see how Novell has extended NetWare with all this

software, the NetWare programming environment is still a difficult one to master and is a

very fragile one at best: load one of these NLMs out of order and you'll crash your server or

mess up NMS' inner workings.

We tested NMS on a small Ethernet network with one NetWare 3.11 and one NetWare 4.01

server running on a Dell 486/50 and Compaq 486/33 respectively. We had several PCs and

Macintoshes connected to the network at various times, along with a Xircom Pocket Ethernet

Print Server. The 4.01 server had 16 Mb of RAM and that seemed sufficient to handle all the

various NMS components, the 3.11 server had 8 Mb and it wasn't enough. We recommend

putting in at least 32 Mb of RAM in the central server that will run NetExplorer and in any

server running the LANalyzer software.

We were unable to get any configuration information on the Xircom.....  [CHECK}

There are some other oddities about NMS. 

RCONSOLE is included, although we were unable to connect to any server that didn't have

any NMS software loaded [CHECK}. Also, it requires its own keystrokes that differ from the

standard CTRL-ESC used by the ordinary DOS software. 

You can't run NMS on any networks with Arcnet segments. 

If you've got any older NMS software on your network, the best thing you can do is first

remove all of it and start the 2.0 install from sratch. This includes older versions of the

Management Agents which if you by mistake install on a server after you've installed the

newer stuff will cause you all sorts of pain and suffering. Better to just be rid of the whole


The network map does not dynamically reflect some changes, such as naming each object or

loading a new Management Agent on your server (servers that have these agents have a

different icon on the map): you will have to close and then re-open the map. Speaking of

names, NMS uses a common database so that once you specify that a node with an Ethernet

address of 00AA56478D7 is "Joe's PC" you don't have to enter it again on other displays.

Other network management products like Intel's LANDesk should learn something from


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David Strom David Strom Port Washington, NY 11050 USA US TEL: 1 (516) 944-3407