David Strom

Getting Rid of NetWare

by David Strom

If you own a network file server, chances are it is running Novell's NetWare. But before

you get too comfortable with this situation, you may want to think about changing to another

network operating system.

Why mess around with this decision? Can you save money, cut staff support costs, or have

systems that better support your business if you choose something other than NetWare? The

answer depends on the kind of network configuration you have, the skills of your support

staff, and where you intend to be in a few years with your business and computing needs. 

What are the alternatives to NetWare? Most prominently is Microsoft's Windows

NT/Advanced Server, a product that has been available for several years and was upgraded

this past summer to a new version. Other products are also available from Banyan and IBM.

All do essentially the same job of sharing files and printers across a network. However,

opinions differ as to whether these companies are the best business partners.

"Nobody does file and print server software better than NetWare, but the architecture is

changing as the client/server industry matures and proves itself," says Charles Ledbetter, a

network engineer with systems integrator Valinor, Inc. [Raleigh, NC 27612.  (919) 781-6907.]

Ledbetter has installed both NetWare and NT servers in a variety of sites, and is still bullish

on Novell: "They are a strong company and have a huge third-party market that will be

around for a long time to come," he says.

Novell and Microsoft clearly have the most interest and loyalty at this point. "IBM doesn't

have a clue. Enough said," says Jesse Rodriguez, who is director of Information Technologies

for the Tucson Unified School District [Tucson, AZ, (520)617-7202, fax (520)798-8626.] The

school district has over 6,000 machines on both NetWare and NT servers, and is moving its

administrative network over to NT. "We have currently decommissioned 24 Netware systems

and replaced them with NT. Microsoft provided us with a much better deal and it makes

sense to us to use their products from the client all the way up to server," he says.

Ledbetter is equally down on IBM: "IBM still hasn't figured it out. They almost insist that

you turn over your entire system to them to install their hardware, software and then bring in

a team to configure and run it full-time. If IBM could get their vision aligned, they could be a

huge force. Until IBM stops suffering from self-inflicted wounds, they'll remain a second-tier

LAN company."

"Banyan is undoubtedly the best in networking disparate networks over large geographic

regions. They have great products, unfortunately they have never been able to market their

systems at all," says Ledbetter.

1. So, should you stick with NetWare? Not everyone should switch. "If you have a huge

number of NetWare servers in the organization, lots of NetWare expertise, and most

importantly, you don't need the applications that run on NT, then by all means, stay with

NetWare," says Ledbetter.

Otherwise, consider the alternatives, which for many people should be NT. "My current

recommendations are that small business that run under a dozen servers and have limited IS

support go with NT rather than moving to NetWare version 4. Large NetWare installations

should continue to stay with NetWare and move to version 4," says Bob Matsuoka of SOHO

Internetwork in New York City [(212) 423-5380, (212) 423-5259 (fax)]. Matsuoka runs at his

office 12 NetWare version 3 servers with over 2000 users, and also supports 3 NetWare

version 4 servers with about 200 users. "I'm motivated to convert primarily to simplify

administration and configuration, and also to consolidate some applications such as electronic

mail and Internet services on a single platform," he says.

The various versions of Novell's operating system have made some of their customers sour on

the experience of upgrading from one to another. "We were casualties of Novell's move from

version 2 to version 3. Then the same thing happened to us with version 4. We lost patience

with Novell," says Rodriguez. "Microsoft would really have to have a misstep for us to stick

with NetWare."

Users who have gone from NetWare to NT offer the follow caution: "Anyone making the

migration should do so not because NT is new and 'neat', but because it makes good business

sense," says Rodriguez. One way to evaluate the business case for switching is to look

towards the applications. "People buy computers to run applications, not operating systems,"

says Ledbetter. "It's the applications that make NT attractive, not the file and print services,"

he says.

When contemplating switching, Matsuoka recommends that you first rethink the logic of your

network setup. "It is more valuable to start from fresh and reevaluate the decisions that led

you to your current server configuration than to simply copy that structure." 

2. The cost of support. Figuring out the cost of supporting your network is difficult, but

something that can have some immediate payback when it comes to paring down overhead.

"When you get past the techie issues, you have to look at what it will cost to keep the system

running. The price/performance ratio was clearly in NT's favor," says Rodriguez.

"NetWare is arguably more difficult to support than NT. But, Microsoft's strategy does lend

itself towards remote administration much more so than NetWare. Almost all of the NT tools

can administer a remote site over the network or a modem," says Ledbetter. With NetWare,

some tools work on ordinary client machines (typically running Windows or DOS) while

others work directly on the server itself. This means that more skilled engineers are required,

who have to learn several different interfaces and tools. "NT's interface is graphical, making it

very easy to use. You just point and click," says Rodriguez. 

But other users were less sure of the cost savings: "Based on what we've seen, I would have

to say the staffing needs would be the same for both NOS's," says Rodriguez.

One thing in Microsoft's favor is their on-line support, such as what is available via the

Internet. "It is a lot easier to figure out how to solve problems with Microsoft's on-line

resources than with Novell's," says Matsuoka. 

3. Novell has become big and bloated, while Microsoft is lean and mean when it comes to

marketing and is more responsive. Microsoft has tried to gather market share in the network

server business by being more accessible to its potential customers. 

"As we worked through problems with NT, there was always a Microsoft person we could

talk with and Microsoft engineers would periodically stop by for a visit to see how we were

doing. They also have ongoing seminars that have proven relevant to us and their developer's

reference materials have been lifesavers. When we tried to updgrade to NetWare version 4, it

was a fiasco -- Novell would not return calls or if we were able to make contact with them

they would never get back to us with a response," says Rodriguez. 

Ledbetter concurs about Microsoft's "can-do" attitude. "Microsoft is responsive and getting

better-- they just seem to be very willing to help you. The Microsoft organization seems to

still be irreverent enough to get you pre-release products when you really need them."

4. Installation experience. Another factor to consider is the ease of installation and

configuration your network server. "NT is a dream to install and work with," says Rodriguez.

"NetWare requires about twice or three times the time as well as considerably greater

experience than NT," says Matsuoka. "It took me about a week (starting with no experience)

to get up my first NetWare server, while NT took an afternoon or so to get running."

5. What about directory services? Novell's biggest push on both the marketing and technical

fronts is to create interest and demand for its NetWare Directory Services or NDS. This

feature, which is only available on NetWare version 4 servers, allows network administrators

to set up an entire enterprise quickly and present a consistent and coherent view of network

services to all users. That's the theoretical concept, anyway. In practice, there have been few

products that work with NDS, with most only coming on the market in the past six months.

Novell has also made it difficult for its existing customers to migrate to NDS from earlier

versions of NetWare. "NetWare 4 is a good product, but it was prohibitively difficult to

migrate from version 3 to 4 until just recently," says Ledbetter. "NDS adds a significant level

of complexity to NetWare, although it does significantly improves its capablilities," says


Customers are mixed in their interest in NDS. "As for third party support for NDS, it is

irrelevant to us at this point," says Rodriguez. "Third party support for NDS is extremely

important to us since Novell does not make many of the network applications and services we

run," says Matsuoka.

6. What about database servers? Novell has been caught in a difficult situation with respect to

supporting database servers: it has been sending confusing signals regarding which of its two

operating systems, NetWare or Unix, is better for running these servers. Microsoft doesn't

have this dicotomy and can sell NT as both a file server and as a database server product.

Plus, "NT applications will run on other Windows products from Microsoft, while NetWare

applications don't run on anything other than NetWare servers," says Ledbetter.

"NT's database server is so tightly integrated with the NT file server that you don't run into

having to work with two products from two different vendors, such as Novell and Sybase for

example," says Rodriguez.

"The cost effective applications for NT, such as database and communications servers, are

what usually drive the introduction of NT into a NetWare-centric environment," says


"There is a trend back towards single-vendor solutions now. It's nice for a corporation running

Windows, Word, Excel and Microsoft Mail to have a Microsoft network as well. This way,

customers only make one call when a problem crops up," says Ledbetter.


BIO: David Strom is a frequent contributor to ASAP and runs both NT and NetWare at his

own consulting firm in Port Washington, NY. He can be reached via the Internet at


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