DS Expert Boosts NDS Handling

SAN MATEO (05/23/2000) - Today network operating systems are tightly integrated with directory services, and a sick directory can cripple an enterprise faster than an e-mail virus. As directories do more than manage file-and-print services, a network's vulnerability to directory failures increases. In the worst cases, corrupt directory information will thwart your customers and torpedo user productivity. Shops using Novell Inc.'s NetWare and its associated NDS can benefit from NetPro Computing Inc.'s DS Expert 3.01, which does a very good job of identifying problems with NDS and alerting IT staff when something goes awry.

Novell provides some tools for maintaining NDS, but the net effect of these is to close the barn door after most of the animals have escaped. Although NDS Manager and ConsoleOne allow you to perform basic operations, they rarely provide useful feedback. The NDS tracing functions built into NetWare will provide more detail, but the raw data is numbing. DS Expert provides a well-defined interface for managing your NDS environment and translating much of the mumbo jumbo behind NDS replication into useful information that can reduce your downtime.

Behind the veil

It's worthwhile to review some basics of NDS in order to see DS Expert's value to large organizations. NDS is an integral part of NetWare 4.x and 5.x and is best visualized as a tree. Computers, printers, and users are represented as various "leaf" objects, while other objects are "containers" for leaf objects, other containers, or a mix of the two. NDS is rooted in the X.500 standard for presenting directory information, and recent versions of NDS offer services allowing LDAP clients to connect to NetWare resources.

NDS information is stored in a database that lives in a hidden directory on the NetWare server. This database is copied, or "replicated" to other servers using NDS; although these servers usually run NetWare, Novell also offers NDS for Linux, Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT, and Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris platforms.

In a "from-scratch" scenario, the first NetWare server in an installation holds the "master replica" of the NDS database. Subsequent NDS servers join a "replica ring" when NDS is added to a new or existing server. Although every NetWare server must be known to NDS for its resources to be available to the network, not every server will hold a replica of the NDS database.

Geography can also complicate your NDS infrastructure, and the problem is bigger than simply selecting the correct time zone for your server. Maintaining accurate directory information becomes complex when you have many sites using WAN links to connect to network resources. In these situations, textbook network-design principles dictate that copies of directory information sit in local servers on each side of the network cloud, reducing the WAN traffic to directory updates. In NDS-ese, these copies are called "partitions." Every tree has at least one partition (the "root" of the tree), but a far-flung organization may have several. By creating partitions geographically and replicating locally, users can access resources in their immediate vicinity while administrators ensure that directory information doesn't consume the WAN bandwidth.

Expert monitor

DS Expert 3.01 succeeds because it doesn't try to bite off more than it can chew. It's a monitoring tool, not a fix-it utility. Although you can perform some NDS repair functions from the DS Expert client, these merely provide another entry point to simple NDS tracing commands. Although it would be nice to have the ability to customize these "one-button" functions, NetPro covers the basics.

DS Expert installs from a Windows client and requires a user ID with specific browsing rights to the NDS tree. You have to be security-equivalent to the Admin user to install DS Expert, but the DS Expert client requires merely the ability to perform browse, read, and compare operations on the tree. The install program copies the DS Expert agent to each monitored server and a "tree monitor" to a centrally located server. The tree monitor and the agents launch at the end of setup; the process takes just minutes.

I liked the simplicity of DS Expert's client interface, which presents partition and server information at the same time. The DS Expert client provides the capability to view the aggregated data for monitored servers in one window -- a great convenience when performing multiserver traces. DS Expert has solid alerting features; NetPro offers a snap-in for Novell's ManageWise management framework, and alerts can be sent to any other tool that accepts SNMP traps.

Overall, NetPro's DS Expert provides a very good solution to the problem of monitoring the health of NetWare's NDS. DS Expert is easy to set up and configure, collects and presents data better than the native operating system tools, and its price is a lot less than the cost of a Novell-certified expert.

P.J. Connolly (pj_connolly@infoworld.com) evaluates networking technologies.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

NetPro DS Expert 3.01

Business Case: Directory services do more today than just manage vanilla file-and-print operations; they're becoming the lifeblood of e-commerce.

Ensuring directory health becomes exponentially more complicated when multiple sites and dozens of servers are factored into the equation. DS Expert 3.01 provides real-time monitoring of the health of NDS for enterprises with far-flung operations that need a healthy NetWare environment.

Technology Case: IT managers and server administrators alike will benefit from DS Expert's capability of reducing the guesswork involved in tracing NDS replication problems. Although its fix-it capabilities aren't much beyond those of the operating system, DS Expert does provide a superior set of tools for interpreting the raw data that the OS supplies.

Pros:

+ Provides real-time monitoring of NDS activity+ Organizes data from multiple servers into an easy-to-use format+ Transforms cryptic alarms into relatively plain EnglishCons:

- Does not query NDS replicas on non-NetWare servers- No integrated alerting via e-mail or pagerCost: $12 per user object in monitored treePlatform(s): Server: NetWare 4.x/5.x; Client: Windows 9x/2000, NT with Novell client softwareNetPro Computing Inc., Scottsdale, Arizona; (480) 941-3600; www.netpro.com

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