Kearns' column: Service packs that are anything but

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Last spring (Q2), Novell announced the first consolidated support pack (CSP) for all leading products: a CD containing the most important bug fixes and patches for NetWare, ManageWise, GroupWise and BorderManager. As an added benefit, all the patches on the CD would be tested and released together, thus (Novell says) increasing stability and reducing conflicts. Network professionals could feel safer about immediately installing the new, more reliable support packs.

In August, reality set in when the second CSP was released. The lucky folks, seemingly, were those using the German language version of NetWare 5. Because of a syntax error introduced after testing was completed, the install script simply wouldn't run.

Also, a small but significant group of network managers found that after installing the NetWare 5 support pack, their new Novell Storage Services (NSS) volumes simply disappeared. It seems the NetWare engineering team ignored the policy of not introducing new technology in a support pack. New NSS code, needed for NetWare 5.1 (due out later this year) was introduced and, in specific circumstances, simply refused to recognise existing NSS volumes.

But it wasn't only NetWare 5 users who got stung. The NetWare 4 support pack managed to disable the backup and archival software used by most NetWare 4 sites.

Novell Support's rapid response group swung into action as soon as the problems surfaced.

The German install script was easy enough to fix -- removing a stray dash did it -- so customers could fix the problem without having another patch released. The NetWare 4 backup problem could be fixed by using the support modules from the previous support pack.

The NSS problem was harder to reproduce, but as soon as it was the support pack was pulled.

Customers who received the CSP disk along with their monthly subscription to the Novell Support Connection CD received a letter warning them of the possible damage. Inexplicably, though, it took two weeks for the letter to get from Provo to customers.

A new support pack for NetWare 5 was just released fixing the NSS problem. Early reports indicate that it affects the ability of some server hardware to keep accurate time.

There's got to be a better way, Novell.

Kearns, a former network administrator, is a freelance writer and consultant in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at wired@vquill.com

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