Zenith Data System's Z-Stor Personal NetWare server is an exciting product: Take a turnkey network server, so simple that all you have to do is connect it to power and network and turn it on. That's the theory. In practice, I found so many rough edges I'd think twice and wait a few months while ZDS and Novell smooth them out. Don't run out to buy one quite yet. What would make this product ready for the enterprise? Novell has to do a better job with integrating Personal NetWare into mainstream NetWare networks. While better than Novell's first efforts (called NetWare Lite), Personal NetWare still has a long way to go. And ZDS has to do a better job packaging the ancillary supporting peripherals and documentation with the box. What makes the Z-Stor so exciting is that ZDS has taken Thoreau's credo (simplify!) to heart: there is no keyboard, no monitor, and no end-user control over the server. The most work you'll have is setting up users and shared directories and printers. The Personal NetWare server software is already pre-loaded on the machine, so setup takes less than five minutes -- even if you have to take time to read one of the manuals. It is so quiet that you'll actually want the unit on your desktop. And when the time comes to expand the unit by adding more storage, a CD-ROM drive, and other peripherals, ZDS has already thought this out and provided an easy way to do this without having to take the entire box apart. The price is right too: a gigabyte of storage for $1,599, which isn't much more than you would pay for the bare disk itself. That's the good news. The bad news is that ZDS could learn how to finish their product and make it completely rock-solid. Our first unit was DOA. Our second unit arrived missing some software tools. We got it working and up and running on our existing network of NetWare 3.11 and 4.01 servers, but it wasn't easy: Novell's documentation hides some of the key steps you'll need and ZDS has assumed that buyers will place these boxes on virgin ground, without any existing LANs. One issue is that of software quality: Sometimes the ZDS software would connect to the server, but other times it wouldn't. Using Novell's own utilities during these moments we could get a connection, however. Another is that of overall ease-of-use. Because the server is marketed as a one-stop, turnkey package, that creates a level of expectation that things will work and work well. They don't quite just yet. The dial-up utilities (the server has a PCMCIA slot where you can put a modem in and dial it up from a remote client) weren't included in our package: we had to borrow them from Novell's NetWare Connect product and we had trouble getting them to work. And a third issue has to do with Novell. Personal NetWare is a new flavor of software, and it comes with its own set of utilities in DOS that start with NET commands and software for Windows called NWUSER. This means that all Personal NetWare servers will remain undetected by SLIST and other ordinary NetWare commands: that could be bad news for network administrators who want to know what servers are out on their networks. Indeed, the ZDS project manager gloated to us that they had many Z-Stors on their corporate backbone without the knowledge of their IS staff. Another rough edge. Personal NetWare isn't for everyone: it won't run the NetWare Loadable Modules that NetWare 3.x and above runs. It won't share its resources with Macintoshes (not in its first incarnation, anyway). And it is designed for the workgroup, rather than the enterprise, so don't plan on having hundreds of users connecting to a single server. If you've got an existing "impersonal" NetWare (2.x or above), you'll need to toss your old NETX requestors out and replace them with the new Virtual Loadable Module 1.1 clients. These were first introduced with NetWare 4.0 and you can get these one of several ways: Buy DOS 7 from Novell, perhaps the best way because it has the strongest installation utility that automatically detects what network adapter and interrupt settings while it does the install. Second choice is to get a copy of Personal NetWare itself, which costs the same as DOS 7 but doesn't have a copy of DOS included. Go figure. Last choice is to download the latest software from Compuserve's NetWire. It is free but you'll spend some time configuring NET.CFG and other Novell arcana. The new NWUSER Windows utility is a very nice piece of work: you can connect to any kind of Novell server: Personal NetWare, regular 2.x or 3.x NetWare, or NetWare 4.x directory services. That's great. Moreover, you can do so from within Windows: previous versions of Novell Windows software required you to exit from Windows before making any new connections. Anyway, back to the box. It has several ports on the back: a parallel port for printers, in case you want to share these over the network too. An RJ-45 port for twisted-pair Ethernet, and a Friendly-Net port (a la Apple) for the other types of Ethernet connectors. The box comes with cables and room for two five-inch SCSI storage devices: these could be CD-ROMs, tape drives, or a second hard disk drive. Speaking of sharing CD-ROMs, this could be one of the biggest benefits of this box: we got ours setup in minutes. If you want to connect this via Token Ring, you'll need to use the PCMCIA slot and purchase an optional token ring card ($579). For being a bargain-basement server the Z-Stor is fast: It wasn't noticeably slower saving files on it than the Dell 486/D50 that we use for our NetWare 3.11 server, and when we ran PERFORM3 it came in only 25% slower. When we set up a Compaq Prolinea 486/33 PC running the Personal NetWare software itself, PERFORM3 came in ten times slower than the Z-Stor. My bottom line: if you want this machine and are a networking neophyte, then get DOS 7 from Novell for all your client machines. If you've already got "real" NetWare, then make sure you've got the latest VLM 1.1 client from Novell and be prepared for some work to integrate the Z-Stor into your network. You should know about a year ago I did some consulting for ZDS on this product and helped shape some of its design points. ZDS did a great job creating something as simple to use as Z-Stor: they and Novell just need to finish the work completely before I'll recommend it for deployment across the enterprise. Vital Statistics: Z-Stor Personal NetWare Server Model 1000 $1,599 Pre-installed Personal NetWare and DOS 7 1000 Mbytes (compressed) storage, 2 Mbyte RAM 486SLC/25 MHz processor three-year limited warranty (a 400 Mbyte model sells for $999) Ready for the Enterprise? NO -- Wait six months and it might be, though. UP: Simple to set up and easy to use on virgin networks DOWN: Integrating into existing NetWare networks will take some effort Competitive analysis: UP: There is no other product that can compare in terms of being a complete turnkey server. DOWN: Personal NetWare needs to be improved before this can be "the server for the rest of us" Zenith Data Systems 2150 East Lake Cook Rd Buffalo Grove IL 60089 800 582 0524 (708) 553 0331 800 582 8194 (faxback service) 800 472 7211 (fax) firstname.lastname@example.org (internet) [please recheck these numbers] Test bed: Two NetWare (3.11 and 4.01) servers running on a Dell 486/D50 and Compaq Deskpro, respectively. Two Personal NetWare clients installed on Compaq Prolinea and Dell 486/D50. All machines connected via twisted-pair Ethernet.