NetWare 6.5 points Novell directly toward Linux.
Even though all of Novell's network services will not be ported to Linux until late this year, in our testing of the just-released NetWare 6.5, we found that Novell's preliminary open source add-ons are well integrated, complemented by Novell's mature eDirectory services and managed comprehensively by NetWare iManager 2.0.
A peek at Virtual Office
NetWare 6.5 is driven heavily by Web interfaces, its improved Virtual Office application (see related story), and ties between eDirectory and the open source pieces - Apache, MySQL, and Perl/PHP (AMP) - that ship with it. Also included in the NetWare 6.5 development platforms are TomCat, Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition, Novell's Extend application server platform (from Novell's acquisition of SilverStream) and its DirXML (parser and API set). These pieces comprise Novell's efforts to make NetWare a better environment for building and running Web-based applications.
We installed NetWare 6.5 with various options on a number of servers, ranging from a Gateway 1U to Compaq DL360 and DL580 multi-CPU servers (see How we did it). The installation options mime functionality found in most server platforms, such as DNS, Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol and certificate management.
Novell's hardware discovery processes worked well across all platforms tested. However, NetWare doesn't try to make any guesses as to the lab's network address infrastructure, unlike Windows 2003 and a number of Linux versions, both of which occasionally misidentified network routers, and other services.
Instead of managing each device (hard disk, tape drive, CD/DVD and so on) separately, NetWare can aggregate storage devices and areas into objects called pools. We created both server-localized (local hard disk) pools, but also pools of storage across the lab's storage-area network (SAN) using various file systems and disk/volume combinations. Although NetWare uses its own filing system for its system storage area, it can mount a variety of filing systems, including the Common Internet File System that we created in the SAN. Apple File System support is also available, and we found no difficulty either deploying or accessing any of the filing systems tested.
NetWare 6.5 doesn't provide a firewall or IP Security VPN services, but network address translation and port blocking are provided. From a value standpoint, this compares less favorably to XServe OS/X and Linux, which contain a slightly stronger firewall and a variety of VPN methods, and somewhat favorably with Win 2003, which contains nominal firewalling and comparatively strong VPN services.
Client logon capability can use many methods from simple password to complex password to certificate-based in combination with biometrics/SmartCard authentication techniques. We used the X.509 certificates with little setup time, but found the process adds about 10 seconds to any logon.
User and group security is strong in NetWare 6.5 because of the highly articulate controls within iManager 2.0, a Web-based central console for almost all NetWare services. While eDirectory ties resources in ways that can establish and authenticate identity, the iManager aggregates the functionality of users, groups, devices and directory contexts well.
Administrative control through iManager was occasionally sluggish, but it was comprehensive and better laid out than other management applications.
Our only criticism of iManager was its brief, poorly linked help system. And, alternative browsers (Opera and older Netscape) aren't supported by the DirXML-driven apps and servlets used by iManager, thus requiring Internet Explorer or later versions of Netscape.
The open source twist
By adding AMP, Novell has linked its foundation of mature eDirectory services to one of the most popular open source Web applications engines. This combination has a large number of followers in the open source community, and we found that maintenance of the AMP applications (such as recompiling them) is no more difficult than it is on Linux or Berkeley Software Distribution. We ported several scripts from Linux/Apache and ran them with no difficulty after adjusting the scripts for the differences in file locations. There's even a server X console to make Unix/Linux/BSD programmers and administrators feel at home.
The AMP combo, often found on Linux applications servers where it's known as LAMP, has huge popularity with Web and applications developers and a large base of readily available open source code. We were disappointed to find some beta products in the mix, even though the products were at the current release levels.
We subjected NetWare 6.5 to the WebAvalanche test environment used to test Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SuSE/UnitedLinux (read review) and Win 2003 (read review) earlier this year. NetWare scored well in terms of transactions, but not in Web IP performance.
NetWare 6.5 and Apache 2.02 bettered Win 2003 in number of transactions per second. But in maximum number of TCP open connections and maximum number of sustained Web connections, NetWare 6.5 scored consistently lower than its competitors.
NetWare 6.5 is a stepping stone to NetWare on Linux. While the grafted open source applications might not be quite as speedy as we'd like, the combination is powerful. In some ways, the basic infrastructure to NetWare hasn't changed in 20 years, but the direction toward NetWare as an open source platform is happening quickly and, in our opinion, successfully.
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Henderson is principal researcher for ExtremeLabs, of Indianapolis. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Global Test Alliance
Henderson is also a member of the Network World Global Test Alliance, a cooperative of the premier reviewers in the network industry, each bringing to bear years of practical experience on every review. For more Test Alliance information, including what it takes to become a member, go to www.nwfusion.com/alliance.