Novell's NetWare stalwarts stay loyal

The thousands of NetWare faithful meeting at Novell's annual BrainShare user conference in Salt Lake City this week will see the...

The thousands of NetWare faithful meeting at Novell 's annual BrainShare user conference in Salt Lake City this week will see the latest version of the venerable network operating system as it is released for public beta.

Seventy-nine per cent of NetWare users want to upgrade to NetWare 6.5, according to an online poll of 1,042 US-based NetWare users last week. And a nearly equal percentage said they expected to stay with NetWare for "as long as possible", despite projections that show NetWare continuing to lose share in the server operating system market.

Many users said that they wanted a more consolidated, easier to use interface for NetWare and that they wished Novell would get its marketing act together. But they continued to endorse the operating system for its reliability and its lower total cost of ownership compared with competitors' products.

"I'd be hurting, personally, if NetWare declines in the next two years," said Doug Boval, systems engineer at a hospital in Indianapolis. "NetWare is awesome, but two to five years from now it could be snuffed out with more applications taken off NetWare and moved to Windows or elsewhere."

Stephen Millington, technology manager at an insurance company, said Windows was not as dependable as NetWare for building a networking infrastructure, and that NetWare deserved to survive.

"I think NetWare will be around for a while, partly because there's no one shoe that fits everybody's needs," Millington said.

Novell officials cannot deny the decline but have stressed that they are transforming NetWare from its traditional role as a network operating system to a set of services, such as a continuous backup and server aggregation.

They added that Novell is not solely reliant on NetWare, which accounted for just 32% of the company's 2002 revenue.

"It's no secret that a NetWare market decline is happening, but we're taking measures to resolve that [by] adding a broad range of technologies that have not been there before," said Tracy Thayne, director of solutions marketing at Novell.

Those technologies include open-source software support and the ability to run Java applications natively on a J2EE server, according to Thayne.

A February forecast by analyst group Gartner projected that the 4% of global server operating system sales that Novell held in 2002 will fall to 1.3% by 2006. Novell introduced NetWare in 1983, long before Windows ran on servers. And by the early 1990s, NetWare had captured 70% of the network operating system market.

Despite its shrinking share, there are still 90 million licensed NetWare users on four million servers worldwide. And that base is fiercely loyal.

Brad Staupp, a senior support analyst at a community college in Kansas, has NetWare running predominantly as a file and print server for 30,000 students and employees. "I thank God every day that we use NetWare," because of its near-immunity to persistent viruses, he said.

"Most definitely NetWare will be around in three years," Staupp said, if only because so many large corporations relied heavily upon it. But he speculated that NetWare could, eventually, be integrated with products from another supplier, such as Sun Microsystems.

"I have confidence in Novell to put money into innovations and to keep NetWare alive," Staupp said.

Boval and Staupp are testing NetWare 6.5 and are seeing many improvements over 6.0, including support for more third-party applications and for open-source software useful to their development efforts. But Staupp said 6.5 still needed a single interface running on a single console.

Look at alternatives to NetWare, analysts advise

With NetWare experiencing a steady decline in market share, IT managers should consider an alternative network operating system strategy over the next two to three years, some analysts advised.

"NetWare still has legs, but the decision point about keeping it is two years out," said Earl Perkins, an analyst at Meta Group. "No strategy from Novell" would bring in new NetWare customers in appreciable numbers, he added.

Perkins expected the company to increase annual support costs for the existing user base to make up for the lack of new customers, putting more pressure on users to find alternatives.

Gartner analyst John Enck advised users to wait and see what Novell has done with NetWare two to three years from now before jumping ship. If a company does decide to migrate away from NetWare, he suggested that it take one of two paths.

One is to adopt Windows for file and print functions, especially if a shop already has a Microsoft infrastructure. Otherwise, a shop should consider a combination of network-attached storage (NAS) and print devices, with the NAS devices supporting Windows, Unix or Macintosh clients.

Migrating away from NetWare does not mean dropping other Novell products, such as Zenworks, eDirectory and DirXML, Enck added, noting that these work well in other environments.

But not everyone is convinced that the writing is on the wall. James Taylor, a NetWare consultant at East Cobb, said he believed Novell "will keep NetWare going" for five years at least, so users need not worry about making more immediate migration plans.

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