Novell has a very good reputation for supporting older products. They’ve even recently supplied updates for NetWare 3.2, a product that debuted in the early 90s. But how do you know when Novell plans on dropping support on a product? In this Daily Feature, I’ll show you how Novell plans a product’s life cycle and where to find out what products might be discontinued next.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls
Vendors provide patches and upgrades for as long as it’s economically feasible. After all, as a product gets older and is no longer being sold, it becomes more expensive to produce support for it. Supporting older products increases customer confidence and can create customer loyalty, but after a while, there’s a point of diminishing returns, and the product must be discontinued along with its support.

When deciding on cancelling support or discontinuing a product, the vendor might look at the added support expenses, which can come from several places. The vendor must cross-train people to support multiple platforms, sometimes having to train them to support products that were first released when they were in elementary school. Programmers must also update and maintain old code while under pressure to add features and release new versions.

Eventually, something has to give. That something usually winds up being support on the product you’ve just bought, planned to buy, or have been using for years. However, when you know a product’s full life cycle, you can plan accordingly and not be surprised when a vendor drops support on a product.

Novell’s product life cycle
On Novell’s Support Web site, you can find patches and fixes for Novell products all the way back to NetWare 2.2. That’s not to say Novell maintains ancient products, but the support files and knowledge base articles are still accessible.

Like all vendors, Novell eventually stops live support on older products. However, it provides product lists that you can view to check the status of the products you might be using or are interested in using. These product lists fall into three areas:

  • Shipping products
  • Maintenance/mature products
  • Discontinued products

Naturally, shipping products are those products that Novell has recently released and still sells as part of its active inventory. This currently includes such products as:

  • NetWare 6
  • NetWare 5.1
  • NetWare 4.2
  • Novell BorderManager Enterprise Edition 3.6
  • DirXML 1.0
  • GroupWise 6
  • ManageWise 2.7

With any of these products, you don’t have to worry about losing support in the near future. Novell continues to sell them and provide live support if necessary. You can view the entire shipping product list by visiting Novell’s Shipping Product List Web page.

At the other end of the spectrum are those products that Novell has discontinued. You may find some knowledge base articles and support files on Novell’s Web site for such products, but if you want live support, you’re out of luck. Novell’s Discontinued Product List shows which products it no longer supports and includes a list of replacement products that Novell recommends. Some of Novell’s discontinued products include:

  • NetWare 4.1
  • NetWare 3.12
  • NetWare 2.2
  • GroupWise 5.2
  • Novell Small Business Suite 5
  • Novell Web Server 3.x

If you’re running one of these products and are encountering problems, you’re pretty much on your own.

Between these two extremes lies a gray area where many network administrators may find themselves. This gray area contains products that Novell refers to as either being in the Mature phase of their product life cycle or in Maintenance mode.

Products enter the Maintenance phase when they’re removed from Novell’s product price list. While in Maintenance, Novell still provides support in the areas of planning, design, implementation and management. One of the main limitations during Maintenance phase is that Novell only provides patches that cover what it deems to be critical defects to the product. Products remain in the Maintenance mode for three months.

After the Maintenance phase, products enter the Mature phase. In this phase, Novell provides live support for them, but it won’t create any new software patches. Novell stops testing products when they enter their Mature phase. Novell will only support products by recommending previously validated solutions and patches for problems that appear similar to ones previously presented by customers. If Novell’s Support team can’t come up with an existing solution that works, it will suggest that you upgrade to a product on the shipping list.

You can check the Product Forecast Web page to see the list of products in the Maintenance and Mature phases. You’ll notice that the list includes the dates the product enters the Maintenance mode and Mature phase and the date it will be officially discontinued. Often, you’ll even see suggested replacements. Some products in the Mature phase and/or Maintenance mode include:

  • ZENworks 2
  • Novell BorderManager Enterprise Edition 3.5
  • NetWare 5
  • NetWare 3.2
  • GroupWise 5.5

When you’re deploying Novell software, it’s important to know if the product you want to use is still going to be supported in the future, and if so, for how long. Novell provides several lists you can reference to find out such information. You’ll probably be most interested in the Product Forecast list if you’re running older products. Check the list for your product to find out important support dates and what your migration options will be.