Novell Boosts Virtual Management

SAN MATEO (03/23/2000) - One key to keeping a grip on IT costs is consistent, efficient server management. If the servers hosting your data aren't accessible, your users might as well go home, and your customers are going to check out your competition. Ensuring that servers are available when they're supposed to be is never easy, and it's tough when you have dozens of them. When they are spread across the country, it can be a nightmare.

So when you have a large number of NetWare servers, how do you make sure that configurations are consistent, support packs are applied, and proper server boot and shutdown procedures are followed? It's an almost impossible task to do by hand; you have to have a disciplined IT staff or spend most of your day checking and rechecking details. Although performing consistency checks is crucial to end-user productivity and resource availability, most tools don't do much more than push files from one box to the next; the administrator must interpret and apply any existing management policies.

Novell Inc.'s recently released ZENworks for Servers 1.0 is a good attempt at providing enterprise-level directory-based management tools for NetWare servers. Novell is positioning ZENworks for Servers (ZfS) as the eventual replacement for its ManageWise monitoring product. Although ManageWise has a solid record, the lack of advanced management capabilities reduces its attractiveness to customers. ZfS fills these needs well, due mainly to its firm anchor in Novell's NDS directory service.

Implementing ZENworks for Servers can get expensive; one shouldn't consider it for shops with fewer than a dozen servers. ManageWise customers under contract are eligible for a free upgrade to ZfS, and Novell is offering it at a substantial discount through April 29. Shops with a high user-server ratio may find the $5,000 per-server licensing option more attractive than licensing by the user count.

One of the coolest features of ZENworks for Servers is its capability to modify procedures such as those that shut down, restart, and reboot the server. I used ZfS to ensure that executing the "down" command would confirm that software modules on our test server weren't active, before actually running the shutdown process.

But some problems remain in ZENworks for Servers 1.0. ZfS allows administrators to create software packages to push out to other servers on a scheduled basis, but administrators must create these packages manually, without the aid of any utilities like those found in the desktop version of ZENworks. Also, ZfS only supports NetWare servers in this initial release, hence limiting its usefulness in mixed-platform shops.

Novell plans to address many of these shortcomings in ZfS 1.5, which the company expects to ship this summer. ZfS 1.5 will support Windows servers as subscribers to ZENworks; future releases will support other OSes. ZfS 1.5 will also incorporate the monitoring capabilities of ManageWise, which shipped its final release in January with Version 2.7.

The only other problem I found during my testing of ZENworks for Servers is the product's dependence on Novell's ConsoleOne utility. While I applaud the concept of the modular Java-based tool, its poor performance on my 300MHz management station was disappointing. This aside, ZENworks for Servers 1.0 is a good debut, but many shops will want to wait for more capable releases.

P.J. Connolly (pj_connolly@infoworld.com) has managed NetWare servers in various environments.

THE BOTTOM LINE: GOOD

ZENworks for Servers 1.0

Business Case: This server management product fosters consistent server management practices and makes better use of your existing staff by reducing travel time.

Technology Case: ZENworks for Servers provides better tools for managing software distribution, OS configuration, and start-up/shut-down procedures. It allows administrators to reduce the drudgery of maintaining server consistency and performance.

Pros:

+ Tiered software distribution model usable over slow WAN links+ Enables scheduled distribution of key server software packages+ Reduces need for visits to remote sites lacking local administratorsCons:

- Slow execution of ConsoleOne management interface- Supports only NetWare serversCost: $75 per user or $5,000 per serverPlatform(s): NetWare 4.11 through NetWare 5 with latest Support Pack, or NetWare 5.1; Windows 95/98/2000 or Windows NT client required for ConsoleOne management utilityNovell Inc. Provo, Utah; (801) 222-6000; www.novell.com

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