Resurgent Novell: Building Linux for Grownups?
NetWare's latest offerings may be bringing Novell out of its funk. More importantly, they might be delivering a level of manageability long-time Linux admins have been hoping for. Here's a look at what's new from Novell.
My heart's desire, as a gnarly old Linux/Windows sysadmin, has long been for better management utilities: directory services, user and resource management, system monitoring, and single sign-on that work across a mixed environment. Something like Active Directory, only without the vendor lock-in, and it works right. I don't much care what's under the covers — Kerberos, LDAP, MySQL — I just don't want to be an ace programmer and have to do it myself. I want to be able to throw Linux, Windows, and Mac hosts into the brew, and not have to graduate from Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to learn how to make them all work together.
While I'm making a wish list, a mature groupware suite would be lovely as well. Something that supports users managing their own shared directories, calendaring, scheduling, and all those collaboration features so beloved of managers, and occasionally even real people. It must use an open, non-proprietary format for the data store, and standard, unborked networking protocols.
Open Enterprise Server
I always liked that NetWare aimed to be a pure network operating system, rather than an expensive form of vendor lock-in. Networking services are supposed to enable interoperability, not hinder it. SUSE's Server 9 Enterprise Edition, running a 2.6 kernel, has been blended with NetWare. The result is the dual-kernel Open Enterprise Server. In a nutshell, this supplies all the goodies in SUSE Linux, plus NetWare's eDirectory and ZENworks. This means the hardworking admin gets directory services, system monitoring, and advanced user and resource management tools. In fact there are so many goodies included in OES that it would take a long article to list them all.
ZENworks won the "Best Systems Management Tool Award" at this year's LinuxWorld Conference and Expo. ZENworks manages desktop, server, and handheld systems: patch and updates management, configuration, migration, asset management, data backup and recovery.
What Novell calls "identity management" is a large piece of this. Included in Open Enterprise Server are tools for managing single sign-on across a mixed environment: Active Directory, Windows NT domains, and Linux users are all managed from a single interface. Also supported, for you futuristic admins, are biometric and smart card-based authentications.
OES lets you mix and match Linux, Windows, and MacOS hosts as you need: both servers and clients, and manage all of them from a central console. Both LAN and WAN management are included.
Network printing is the #1 cause of sysadmin nervous breakdowns. OES tries to enhance sysadmin mental health by combining CUPS and Novell iPrint. iPrint extends CUPS for better centralized printer management, easier printer discovery and network installation, and to increase printer server capacity by putting much of processing load back on the client. The server handles scheduling, auditing, and monitoring. The client handles the rendering, so the printer server can handle a much larger load.
We're finally seeing some major vendors — IBM, Red Hat, and HP — offering desktop/workstation/notebook Linux, though in my opinion they are much too timid about it. Novell is not timid; they are actively promoting it, and making it easy to find pricing and product information. The Novell Linux Desktop, based on SUSE Linux, comes with both KDE and Gnome. It ships with RealPlayer and Flash, Evolution for e-mail and groupware, and the Evolution Connector for using Evolution as a Microsoft Exchange client. It includes handheld synchronization, and a Citrix ICA client for accessing Windows application servers. Firefox is the default Web browser, and Open Office the default productivity suite.
The Linux Desktop also comes with a Novell iFolder client, which allows users to access their files from anywhere, including PDAs. iFolders are stored both on a remote server and local PCs, and the server automatically synchronizes the contents of all the user's client iFolders. This provides up-to-date access and easy backups, and reliable access to personal data files for the incurably mobile.
The iFolder server is a web server module on Apache or Microsoft IIS, and sessions are encrypted with SSL. Users can log in from anywhere; they don't have to use the client. For a lot of users, this obviates the need to set them up with a VPN (virtual private network) connection, which increases security and control over remote users considerably.
GroupWise finally has a native Linux client, so Linux users can get all the e-mail/instant messaging/calendaring-scheduling/contacts goodies, just like all the other users. GroupWise runs on either NetWare or Linux.
Another choice is SUSE OpenExchange. It doesn't quite have all the bells and whistles of GroupWise, but it's a fully-featured groupware suite based on open-source components. Unlike GroupWise, it runs only on Linux, and the operating system (SUSE Enterprise Server) is included.
An obvious question is will Novell continue to develop and support both of these? They say they will.
Migration and Training
Migrating to a new platform is fraught with perils and troubles. A wise Linux vendor offers much help and hand-holding. Novell offers several levels of migration assistance, including onsite services. And a number of training options, from printed materials, CBT (computer-based training) to classes with live instructors. Their certification program has expanded to include a number of Linux administration certifications.
Will Reality Match the Hype?
It looks like Novell is uniquely positioned to provide a complete range of Linux-based products and services, from the network to the datacenter to the desktop to mobile devices. There is a whole lot more than we covered here. In future articles we'll take various bits for test-drives and see how they really perform. We'll also compare pricing and licensing terms. You don't have to wait- visit Novell downloads to find evaluation downloads.