The Network Juggling Act

SAN MATEO (05/08/2000) - Results at a glanceSun Microsystems Inc. Solaris 8: ExcellentAS/400: ExcellentNetWare 5.1: ExcellentRed Hat Inc. Linux 6.2: Very GoodWindows 2000 Advanced Server: GoodA few years ago, choosing a network operating system was all about deciding which platform fit your business needs and standardizing on it. For the most part, integration tools were nonexistent. Client platforms could often be configured to access multiple disparate network servers, but little or no effort was made to integrate the user and group administration among the NOSes.

The focus of NOSes is now vastly different; no longer can you dream of the day when all of your servers run on a single platform that fulfills all your needs.

Today's typical enterprise has every NOS installed in it, and choosing one above the others is not an option. These NOSes justify their presence not because of their performance, directories, or ease of use, but because a business needs those applications and services that serve the greatest goal of all: the growth of the bottom line.

Many religious wars have been fought over NOSes. Proponents of NetWare, Windows NT Server, or the slew of Unix variants feel the need to push their favorite NOS as the solution to all of a business's problems. But we all know it's not that simple.

Each NOS has its strengths, and each has its weaknesses. Unix is renowned for its stability and scalability, making it perfect for mission-critical Web sites and applications. NetWare has long been the top choice for file-and-print sharing, and Windows NT is the leading platform for application services.

The big question: How can your company manage these different systems without spending a fortune hiring additional IT staff and training users? The key is in using a standards-based approach to make the NOSes work together and in utilizing third-party tools that ease the headaches of administration.

Businesses are now faced with the issue of lowering the administrative and user training costs that have been growing steadily as each new server platform is added. Integrating the administrative tasks on these platforms is paramount.

The better your servers work together, the less time your IT staff will have to spend massaging them into cooperating, and the more the users will be able to concentrate on their tasks at hand: doing their jobs.

The costs of adding a new system to any company's IT infrastructure can be high. However, with proper training of your IT staff, the right tools, and a standards-based approach, the bottom-line impact of this type of integration can be kept to a minimum.

It is important not only to look at the tools and procedures for integrating a small network into that of a large corporation, but also to examine the costs involved. Are expensive third-party tools needed to make things work? Will the IT staff at the existing enterprise need to make major changes to its infrastructure?

In this report, we looked at what it takes to make various NOSes interoperate.

We looked at a fictional company, Bigcorp, that has a mixed environment.

Bigcorp recently acquired Smallco, and the IT department of Bigcorp had the unenviable task of integrating Smallco's IT infrastructure into its own.

We used this scenario for each of the NOSes we tested, as if Smallco was standardized on a different server platform for each of the analyses you will read. Our intention was to minimize the impact on our existing servers, but we allowed necessary changes for each NOS we brought in.

In the InfoWorld Test Center, we set up servers representing Bigcorp's existing IT infrastructure. These included NetWare 5.0 servers -- running NDS 8 -- to handle file and print for the enterprise, Lotus Domino 5.0.2 running on Windows NT Server 4.0 for e-mail services, and Netscape Directory Server 4.11 running on Solaris for our LDAP services.

For each of the NOSes we looked at, we went through the steps to integrate them into this existing environment. We looked at connectivity issues, directory services capabilities, network management, file-and-print services, and software compatibility both between servers and with each client OS.

In the end, we were able to get all five NOSes interoperating and behaving properly, but our depth of effort varied among them in a way that was perhaps predictable.

We found both Solaris 8 and the AS/400 were a breeze to integrate into Bigcorp's existing environment. Their extensive standards support and excellent tools made integrating them easy, in terms of both time and cost, justifying their Excellent interoperability scores.

Red Hat Linux 6.2 and Novell NetWare 5.1 came in close behind Solaris and AS/400 with scores of Very Good. Integration pitfalls as well as long-term costs make the prospect of bringing in these NOSes to Bigcorp's infrastructure a bit more troublesome than Solaris and the AS/400.

Finally, Windows 2000 received an interoperability score of Good. We had some problems getting LDAP replication to work, and Windows 2000 is designed more as a "take over your network" OS than one built from the ground up to work with other NOSes on an equal footing.

Integrating a system into an established enterprise infrastructure can definitely be a challenge; but with the right training, the right tools, and the right people, it doesn't have to be a high-cost endeavor. We recommend doing extensive research on the tools and options available if you find your company faced with a scenario such as this.

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Testing strategy

The question

What do you need to keep in mind when integrating a new company's network and its users into your infrastructure? That's what we aimed to find out.

This is a tale of two companies. Bigcorp, our large enterprise, has purchased the modest start-up Smallco. The task now is to integrate Smallco's server and users, at minimal cost, into Bigcorp's network. What steps must you take to give the new users access to the parent company's e-mail, file-and-print, and directory services? Your goal includes not dismantling Smallco's setup. Those clients will still need their current applications, but they'll also require connections to Bigcorp's network.

The issues

* Preserving Smallco's current users and services* Attaching the new clients to Domino mail server, NetWare file-and-print services, and LDAP* Minimizing the cost of integration* Minimizing upheaval for Bigcorp's IT staff and usersThe options* We tested our Smallco scenario with each of these five leading network operating systems.

* Novell NetWare 5.1

* Microsoft Windows 2000 Advanced Server* Sun Solaris 8* Red Hat Linux 6.2* IBM AS/400The answer* We found that Solaris and AS/400 were the two smoothest integrators. NetWare and Linux posed relatively few challenges. Windows called for the greatest effort, but we eventually tamed it.

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