The ZEN of NetWare Server Management

BOSTON (05/08/2000) - Managing large numbers of servers from a central point has been an unattainable goal for many network administrators. It is especially difficult when it comes to distributing server-based software and completing the requisite number of installation steps, which often includes rebooting a server. ZENworks for Servers 1.0 is Novell Inc.'s answer to this centralized server management conundrum.

Novell's first run at ZENworks for Servers is a valiant effort, even if it does fall short. The product suffers from complex administration and underwhelming documentation, and is targeted at NetWare-centric nets, so it doesn't offer universal server management.

Overall, the product shows the potential for being a handy tool once Novell applies a bit of polish. We also think throwing in a few more administration wizards and adding some good examples in the documentation would make a world of difference.

Simple installation

Installation of the product is deceptively easy. However, you can very quickly run into administration issues once you start to use it. All the management modules shipped with ZENworks for Servers run collectively as a ConsoleOne snap-in. You would do well to heed the minimum hardware requirements because this entirely Java-based administration software requires copious amounts of memory to perform well.

Early versions of ConsoleOne were excruciatingly slow, to the point of making the product counterproductive. With the new version of ConsoleOne (Version 2.1c) delivered with ZENworks for Servers, the speed problems have essentially been eliminated, and it runs smoothly on a machine with a Pentium 200 MHz or better processor and 128M bytes of memory.

The administration utilities include wizards that lead you through the necessary steps. Configuring server policies, for example, is one of the wizard-enabled functions, and it was no problem to work through. The server policies function makes it possible to create a standard set of operational rules across multiple servers.

For example, you can establish parameters for the wait time before a server actually goes down once the "down" command has been entered at the system console. You can also use this feature to set the time interval for user notification that the server is going down, when to disable user logons and what to do if users do not log off. To install the ZENworks NetWare Loadable Module (NLM) on our test servers, we set up the basic ZENworks functionality as a server policy and distributed it to our group of servers in short order.

Building a server software package is one feature that could use a wizard to help move the process along. Currently, you must build these distribution packages almost freehand. This process must be completed for any and all server actions required on the network, including loading an NLM or rebooting the server.

Future releases of ZENworks for Servers should employ the same snapshot technology that ZENworks for Desktops uses to take a before and after picture of the system disk to detect what changes were made during the installation process. Without the automated snapshot functionality, you have to rebuild the package by hand for every server. For simple programs and small software packages, this is not a problem. But for a complex install with multiple NLMs and other associated actions, it is almost impossible.

The process of actually distributing the created package to a set of servers is even more convoluted. After creating and compiling the software package, you must create a distribution policy. Distribution policies let you determine any special requirements that must be met before a software package will be distributed to a server. These include factors such as minimum amount of memory, available hard disk space, operating system patch level and other related items. Once the distribution has been created, you must then associate the distribution with a channel. Finally, a subscription must be connected to the previously created channel. Things get really complicated if you have more than one server distributing packages.

We have to say, though, that Novell has obviously designed ZENworks for Servers with scalability in mind. Tiered Electronic Distribution (TED) is the software distribution engine shipping with the product. TED will use multiple levels of distribution to speed up and enhance the reliability of the software distribution process. Knowing what to do if a distribution fails, either partially or completely, is no trivial task. TED provides the smarts to make those kinds of decisions and recover in the best possible way.

Understanding a complex product is difficult enough with well-written documentation, and while the ZENworks for Servers administration manual addresses the subject matter in full, it does it with few examples. Novell does not currently offer any classroom training on ZENworks for Servers, so the manual is all you have to go on. Another missing piece is online help for the ZENworks ConsoleOne snap-in.

Bottom line

The ZENworks for Servers offering rounds out Novell's management strategy, but it suffers from the Version 1.0 syndrome. The basic architecture and functionality provide a solid foundation to build on and should prove useful in future releases. While the product shows great promise, it needs some improvements before it will be the true return-on-investment champion Novell would like it to be.

Ferrill is a principal engineer for Avionics Test and Analysis at Edwards Air Force Base, California. He can be reached at pferrill@fwb.gulf.net. Ferrill has been using and writing about NetWare since Novell shipped Version 2.2.

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