When mainframe and minicomputers provided
the backbone of business computing, there were essentially networked environments
in the sense that “dumb” terminals shared access to a single processor
(the minicomputer or mainframe), printer (or printers) and other peripheral
devices. Files could be shared among users because they were stored
on the same machine. Electrical and operational connections were
available in common and shared applications, and implementation of new
hardware, software and users was a simple task so long as a single vendor
was used. With the proliferation of microcomputers in the business
environment, information became distributed, located on the various hard
drives attached to personal computers in an office, and difficult for other
users to access. Today, network systems which connect disparate hardware,
software and peripherals are commonplace, but the communication program
which makes using these systems has not kept up with the demand for such
environments, although a number of companies are now participating in the
field. This research considers two of the most popular network operating
systems (NOS), NetWare by Novell and Windows NT by Microsoft, and considers
which is appropriate for business applications.
Network Operating Systems
Operating systems are the interface between
individual programs and the user. Through the operating system, the
user is able to name files, move them and otherwise manipulate them, and
issue commands to the computer as to what the user wants to do. Network
operating systems are similar to this, but exist (as the name implies)
in the network environment. Thus a network operating system is used
to issue commands to shared devices, and to provide a background against
which scarce resources are divided among competing users. Ideally,
the network operating system is transparent to the user, who is only aware
of the ability to share information and resources. An efficient NOS
can make the difference between a productive and an unproductive office,
and between workers who are difficult to replace when they leave and those
who are likely to be familiar with the NOS of choice.
Despite their importance, network operating
systems have faced challenges in the market because of the diverse hardware
requirements that they must meet. Because of this, several different
operating systems have been developed, some of which run in place of traditional
(single-user) operating systems, and some of which run in addition to these
systems. OS/2, for example, provides a multi-user environment without
requiring a separate operating system.
NOS development gained widespread acceptance
when companies such as Artisoft (which manufactures Lantastic) introduced
client software which worked with a variety of servers. This made
software manufactured by companies such as Novell (which required special
client-side networking software) vulnerable, and Microsoft’s Windows 95
quickly became the client software of choice in the market (although not
always among analysts) when it was introduced since it can interface with
a number of different server systems with complete transparency to the
user. This is the same concept used to develop OS/2 Warp Connect.
Because of the current state of the market,
having 32-bit capability is a requirement in most network environments.
The various NOS alternatives need to offer a strong file and print base,
since that is how most users access and use the networks. Application
services, which includes the ability to run messaging, database, and other
server-based applications efficiently in a client/server network is an
essential requirement of most modern networks. Multiprocessor support
is an essential component, as is fault tolerance, high-quality development
tools, and application support from third-party vendors.
Hardware integration is also a key issue
since the NOS should be able to run on hardware which is readily available
at reasonable rates, and which is likely to continue to be available in
the future. Both the type of processor and the ability to use more
than one processor are important considerations in this regard. A
related issue is the networking infrastructure, which includes the ease
of use of the network transfer protocols and how well the server software
processes multiple LAN adapters and internal routing.
In addition, directory and naming services
should be easy to use, and multiple operating systems (such as DOS, Macintosh,
Unix, OS/2 and Windows 3.x as well as Windows 95) should be supported given
the diversity of most network environments and to offer the greatest flexibility
to systems. Remote-access and Internet-access is also important since
many users in networked environments use the network to access systems
outside their own environments.
Other criteria to be considered when choosing
a NOS system is the after-sale support and the acceptance of the product
in the market. After-sale support is important because any product
is likely to require assistance for its users regardless of how well designed
it is. Both Novell and Microsoft have a variety of support programs
available, including 24-hour telephone support as well as support through
Novell’s Web site offers fax-back service
and a list of frequently asked questions (although they are not identified
as FAQs) and an extensive help facility for all of its products.
The support page can be reached directly, and provides comprehensive support
information. If the user cannot resolve technical support issues
over the Internet, telephone support is available.
Microsoft has an extensive Web site which
is also easy to use and largely intuitive. Its support page can also
be reached directly, and it allows users to query the so-called “knowledge
base,” which contains information on identified problems with Microsoft
products. Users can also employ Microsoft Wizards, which are similar
to “guides” that the company has built into its programs. An
extensive support program (similar to Novell’s) is available in addition
to the Internet, and neither company has an advantage in this area.
Acceptance of the product in the market
is important because no one wants to purchase a product which is likely
to be obsolete in a few months or years. Obsolescence is important
from a technical standpoint, since the goal is to have a system which can
be expanded and which receives dedicated resources from its manufacturer.
However, it also important that a company select a product which is the
industry standard (or close to it) in order to reduce its training time
for new employees, and make it easier to hire employees in the future.
By selecting a NOS which is widely accepted in the market, the company
will spend less time training new employees in its use, and will be more
likely to find employees who are already familiar with its operation.
NetWare (from Novell) offers more features
and flexibility in its file and printing services than Windows NT.
But its efficient file-server software has been a double-edged sword
for Novell because NetWare’s developers did not focus on writing code for
multiple processors or for RISC processors, because NetWare works so well
on the Intel processor. However, database and applications servers,
which are critical parts of a modern networking environment, often make
use of multiple processors and the special advantages of RISC processors.
Novell’s developers have only recently begun to focus their efforts in
this direction, and are now offering a multiprocessing version of NetWare
called NetWare SMP.
NetWare SMP still houses applications
in NetWare Loadable Modules (NLMs), which can be unstable and are difficult
to program. However, Novell recently announced its partnership with
Sun Microsystems to integrate Sun’s Java with NetWare as its application
Nonetheless, NetWare provides a strong
combination of excellent file and print capabilities with powerful directory
and naming services. For running network database and messaging applications,
however, NetWare falls short of Windows NT Server, because NetWare cannot
run on any processors other than Intel. To get multiprocessing capabilities,
companies must purchase a separate product, NetWare SMP 4.1. Both
of these Novell products still run applications in NLMs, which are potentially
unstable and difficult to program.
When it comes to application services,
Windows NT Server offers strong support for multiple as well as non-Intel
processors along with abundant APIs, and applications from third-party
application vendors. In addition, Windows NT uses a domain naming
and security setup. Similar to the naming service offered by Novell,
the domain system gives users easy access to the network, but only after
an exchange of verification information takes place between domain servers
that “trust” each other.
Windows NT servers are make using the
Internet Protocol (IP) easier than NetWare does; IP carries the “favorite”
sorting tags of the powerful Internet working routers, while NetWare IPX
does not convey all of the routing information of IP. The situation
has improved, however, now that NetWare provides NetWare/IP. Recognizing
Novell’s strong presence in the NOS market, Microsoft has also adopted
Novell’s network transport protocol, IPX/SPX, yielding software flexibility
on servers and extended options in extensions to the network.
Microsoft Windows NT Server 3.51 offers
a combination of good file and print capabilities, excellent application
services, and optional messaging, database, mainframe connectivity, and
management applications contained in Microsoft’s BackOffice applications
suite. The products that make up Microsoft BackOffice integrate well
with one another and with the Windows NT Server to provide many of the
functions a network operating environment needs.
However, Windows NT Server lacks powerful
naming services. Windows NT Server’s naming services are based on domains,
each of which can contain only one defined organization. It is possible
to link domains so that users in one domain can easily access the files
and services of another. However, the process of setting up and managing
these links is more complex and cumbersome than working with NetWare.
Because of the way in which network operating
systems are currently written, and because of the strengths and weaknesses
of NetWare and Windows NT, neither solution is the appropriate solution
for every type of business or every type of network environment.
Instead, the type of environment in which the NOS will be placed determines
the correct product. If the organization is using a local network only
to store word processing and spreadsheet files and to print, then
either NetWare or Windows NT offers a reasonable alternative as the NOS
of choice since both handle these functions with ease.
If the system includes a number of geographic
locations and information and requests for functions is passed among sophisticated
applications, a richer and more robust environment is needed. A number
of organizations have turned to combining network operating systems in
order to support these more sophisticated needs. In these situations,
the users gain the strengths of both systems while eliminating their weaknesses
(the domain dependence of Windows NT, for example).
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