At the BrainShare conference in Salt Lake City, Novell gave attendees a preview of SixPack, also known as NetWare 6. Since then, development has progressed to include even more features in this already outstanding network operating system. I recently viewed the fruits of their labor in the latest NetWare 6 beta.

When NetWare 5.1 came out, I thought Novell had taken things as far as it could. With the departure of Drew Major, I didn’t think there would be any significant changes to NetWare in the immediate future. I was wrong. From my experience with the NetWare 6 beta, there are several new options worth looking at, both from an upgrade and an installation point of view.

You beta believe it

Information in this Daily Drill Down is based on Novell’s NetWare 6 beta. Until NetWare 6 officially ships, no one will know exactly what features will be available in the final product. Most of the details discussed here are key components of NetWare 6, so they shouldn’t change much by the final shipment. For more information about NetWare 6, see Novell’s NetWare 6 Launch Web site.

A clientless version of NetWare
One of the biggest chores when upgrading from one version of NetWare to the next is having to upgrade the client software on every workstation on the network. You also usually need to install the latest NetWare client to be able to take advantage of the new features of the newest version of NetWare.

Now, NetWare 6’s new iFolder technology allows you to save and retrieve files from a NetWare server from anywhere in the world, without requiring regular Novell client software to be installed. If you have users who work remotely and want to make sure their files are backed up on a regular basis, you can add a special iFolder client to the remote workstation and enable secure file synchronization. The iFolder client is a small piece of software, nothing like the magnitude of the earlier Novell clients.

Another technology new to NetWare 6 is Novell Internet Printing, based on the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) ratified Internet Printing Protocol RFC-2910-1. As with the iFolder technology, iPrint is a browser-based printing service that allows users to print to network printers regardless of where the printer or the user happens to be.

The print configuration required by the network administrator is also simplified. When users go to the Novell Internet Printing page for their network and click on the printer to which they want to print, the driver for that printer can be downloaded or updated depending on what the users need. After the printer driver downloads from the server, the remote Internet-based printer will appear in the list of printers just like the other printers previously set up on the workstation.

A scalable version of NetWare
As businesses become more and more dependent on the services running on their NetWare servers, they can’t tolerate any downtime. Having a clustered server that spreads the load among multiple servers can be a cheap solution to prevent such downtime.

The clustering in NetWare 6 is an improvement on an earlier Novell technology, SFT III. SFT III was a special version of NetWare that required almost identical hardware in the two servers that made up an SFT III configuration. To make SFT III work correctly, you also needed proprietary network cards for a special server link that ran between the two servers and allowed the backup server to know when it had to take over from the primary server.

Unlike SFT III, Novell Cluster Services v1.6 can handle up to 32 servers in a cluster configuration. What makes Cluster Services different from its SFT III predecessor is that it handles clustered resources differently during the transition from the main to the failover server.

Native File Access
In previous versions of NetWare, to support desktop operating systems other than Windows or DOS, you had to run additional software on the server. Doing so would take up some of the server’s resources and cause things to run more slowly. For example, UNIX systems would require NetWare NFS and Macintoshs would need NetWare for Mac.

Oftentimes, if you supported a multiple-operating system workstation environment, you had to add additional name spaces to the volumes on your server for each different operating system type. With NetWare 6, you have Native File Access. Windows-based workstations will use CIFS, short for Common Internet File System, UNIX systems will use NFS, and Macs will use Appletalk. All of them will be able to use NetWare 6’s Native File Access.

To make it all work, you will still have to have at least one workstation that has the old Novell client installed so you can administer Native File Access. The remainder of the workstations can get by using the Microsoft Client for Microsoft Networks.

You have two options for administering passwords for Native File Access users. You can use ConsoleOne to create passwords one at a time. If you’re setting up many different passwords for multiple users, you can save time by using NetWare 6’s new Remote Manager.

Also in NetWare 6, you’ll notice movement toward using ConsoleOne for administrator-related tasks and less usage of NWAdmin. If you’ve administered NetWare through all of its incarnations, you’ll be used to this trend. Through all of the versions of NetWare 4.x, Novell first introduced a 16-bit version of NetWare Administrator and then slowly migrated things to a-32 bit version. With NetWare 5.x, you tend to use a mishmash of tools—sometimes you use NetWare Administrator, sometimes ConsoleOne, sometimes you load snap-ins, sometimes you don’t. Consistent ConsoleOne usage in NetWare 6 will help avoid this.

Novell Storage Services
Novell Storage Services (NSS) has been around since NetWare 5.0. NSS is a 64-bit file system, which makes it seamless, scalable, and flexible to do just about anything that you would want to do. Unfortunately, NSS hasn’t been that widely used. In NetWare 6, NSS seems to have come into its own. Unlike in NetWare 5, where NSS would coexist with the standard Novell File System, NSS is now NetWare’s primary file system.

One key result is that volume-related tasks are handled differently. For example, when you have volume-related problems, you don’t have to run VREPAIR anymore, because NSS is a database-driven file system and keeps a journal of all file activity on the server. Also, volume-related tasks will be performed with ConsoleOne, not NWCONFIG or NSS Menu, since these two utilities are not compatible with some of the new features in NetWare 6. The big plus for using NSS on a Novell server is that the time to get the server started and all volumes mounted will be dramatically reduced—which means the server will be up faster and responding to users when you have to take it down to replace hardware, etc. This occurs because NSS doesn’t load and cache the entire directory into memory the way that NetWare’s traditional file system did. Something attractive to just about any system administrator is NSS’s ability to handle logical volumes, meaning you can grow volumes in size as your needs change.

Using NSS when adding services, the memory requirements of a NetWare 6 server won’t add up as fast as they can in a NetWare 4 or 5 server. This is because NSS is a journaled file system, much like the IBM AS/400 has used for many years. It has lower overhead, since the entire file system isn’t being cached in memory at one time.

Changes in server requirements
With each new version of NetWare, more features are added and the minimum requirements go up a little bit. With NetWare 6, you will need at least a Pentium II-processor-based server, with a PIII 700 MHz processor to implement the clustered version of NetWare 6.

The memory requirements changed more than I would have expected. The minimum amount of memory required for a NetWare 6 server is 256 MB, with 512 MB being the preferred amount. The more services you plan to use on the server (i.e. the clientless support, Modular Authentication Services, etc.), the more memory you will need to properly support them. Your server will need a Super VGA video adapter or equivalent to display ConsoleOne on the server’s console.

As with earlier versions of NetWare, you need a DOS partition to start your server. Novell’s specifications for the DOS partition are a bit strange. It recommends a DOS partition of 200 MB and free space of 200 MB. To me, this means that you should have a DOS partition of 400 MB. In my opinion, you should try to have a DOS partition size of 1 GB. Since NetWare 6 has a few more files than NetWare 5, a little more space is not unexpected. It also isn’t a big deal, since the cost per megabyte on hard drives continues to drop.

Another good reason to assign 1 GB to the DOS partition is in case you ever need to create a core dump to send to Novell Technical Support. To do this, you must have enough free space in the DOS partition for the dump file to be written, because it can’t go directly to the SYS volume.

NetWare 6 worth a look?
Overall, my experience with the beta of NetWare 6 has been good. In using it, you aren’t required to do a lot of tweaking to get things running the way you want, both on the client and server side. Another big benefit is the elimination of client software on your workstations. With the addition of iFolder and iPrint, your users will also have more options and will be able to connect to your NetWare servers more easily. On the server side, you’ll appreciate improvements in NSS, ConsoleOne, and the addition of Native File Access. I’m sure the final release of this product will be awaited with much anticipation.