NetWare 3.2 users mull options

NetWare users are reacting to Novell's decision to discontinue sales of NetWare 3.2 with surprising calm.

The company is expected to announce this week that sales of NetWare 3.2 will stop in October. NetWare 3.x, which first shipped in 1989, is the last version of Novell's network operating system that uses a flat-file database manager, called the bindery, and is managed with a series of DOS-based utilities.

Still, as many as 30 percent of NetWare customers use this 11-year-old operating system, Novell claims.

While Novell has no plans to suspend NetWare 3.2 support for the foreseeable future, it will offer unspecified incentives to get users to migrate to NetWare 4 or 5.

More than half of the nearly two dozen NetWare 3.2 users contacted by Network World for this story were small or midsize businesses, most of which will either stay with NetWare 3.2 or migrate to a newer release. Several users say they are trapped by legacy applications that don't work on NetWare 4 or 5, but can operate on Windows NT.

"I have to stay with NetWare 3 until we upgrade our billing application," says Pete McCaslin, WAN administrator for Alaska Communications Systems in Anchorage. "I have been preparing for something like this for some time now - it is going to be a smooth transition to Windows NT."

"We will stay with NetWare 3.2 and cross our fingers or migrate to NT," says Charles Hagebusch, technical support coordinator at IT outsourcer Lason in New Orleans. "Our applications have issues with NetWare 4 and 5." Lason has 140 NetWare 3.2 servers.

While these users will end up migrating to NT, many NetWare 3.2 users are loyal to Novell. They'll stay with NetWare 3.2 and hope nothing goes wrong. Or if it does, migrate to NetWare 4 or 5.

"Every network expert I talk to still believes that NetWare 3.2 could be one of the best programs ever made because of its simplicity. It still works after many years and with many operating systems," says Paul Harvey, IT manager at Habitat for Humanity in Waterloo, Ontario. "Most of all, NetWare 3.2 needs very little maintenance."

Paying the price

Some users can still afford the costs associated with upgrading their network operating systems, such as the more powerful hardware required by NetWare 4 or 5. Their major concern is that vendor support for NetWare 3 has waned and will become more difficult to get over time. More technicians are trained to support newer NOS versions, such as NetWare 4/5 or Windows NT/2000.

"My budget proposal for NetWare 5 was rejected," says Dave Woolcock, IT director for an accounting firm in Preston, UK. "We just bought two new servers, and the drivers and instructions supplied with them are wrong and out-of-date. It takes several days to get them running satisfactorily under NetWare 3."

"I don't know many people with NetWare 5 experience I can call on," Harvey says. "This area is seriously Windows NT country, and right now I won't even consider Windows 2000."

"Although we do use several NetWare 3.x servers, I have found that because of the software's age, there are many issues relating to integrating new hardware with the operating system," says Stuart Cash, senior IT assistant for Celtic Energy Limited in South Wales, U.K. "As a consequence, any new servers I bring into the company are biased toward Windows NT 4.0."

All those users would like less-expensive upgrades to NetWare 5 than previously offered, help migrating from the bindery to Novell Directory Services or other incentives.

Novell has not commented yet on the incentives it will offer to encourage customers to migrate from NetWare 3 to its newer NOSes.

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