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The New King Of The Hill

NetWare or Linux? When it comes time to deploy a new network, there is a choice.

By Eric Carr, Sm@rt Reseller

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Call us crazy, comparing Linux to NetWare, but we did it. Is this a valid apples-to-apples comparison? Some may argue otherwise, but we think so especially in the small-business (20- to 50- user) market. It's simple: In this arena, your customers don't need enterprise- management tools, and desktops don't need to be locked down to a specific configuration. Instead, your clients are seeking maximum bang-for-the-buck for their basic file/print and Web serving investment. What you supply is performance, interoperability and value.

We know that Linux beats NT in this arena (see "Reviews: Linux Takes On NT,"), and now we take Novell NetWare 5.0 into the ring. If you eat, drink and breathe NetWare, you're not going to like most of this article. Linux handily beats NetWare in basic file serving in a small server environment. Who would have thought it? Not us. Still, read on.

Why? Because NetWare can work with Linux (see "Linux, NetWare Get Hitched,") to your customers' advantage. Besides, if you're a NetWare integrator or reseller, you need to know how your competition is counter-punching your solutions.

Penguin Power In a nutshell, our tests showed Pacific Hitech Inc.'s TurboLinux 3.0.1 Besting Netware 5.0. Using The Recently Released Linux kernel 2.2.3, TurboLinux clocked impressive results in file and static web service in our hardware environment. At a 16-Client load, TurboLinux with Samba Group's Samba 2.0.2 either matched or surpassed Netware's ability to serve files in each test. At a 20-Client load, This Linux distribution delivered 43 percent more throughput and 27 percent more HTTP requests per second.

Our intent with these tests was to see how well these operating systems perform "out of the box." So, rather than customize the settings, we let the respective installation programs determine the disk layout and the program parameters. The only thing we did do was ensure that no GUI was loaded or running at either server's console.

We realize that each participant would have performed better if certain settings had been adjusted. And it's not just on the server, either. The new NetWare Client 3.1 has a substantial list of settings that can be adjusted to bolster workstation performance. Both systems, of course, would perform better tuned, but we're judging what you have to work with at the start, not what you can make of them.

NetWare 5.0 Novell has a world-class network operating system in Netware 5.0. Its list of impressive features is lengthy. Netware has evolved in every area storage capacity, security, protocol support, desktop management, scalability, total-cost-of-ownership, reduction, application, support and ease ease of administration. Linux can't match Netware's back-office features, at least not until more Unix applications are ported to Linux.

In at least one way, NetWare and Linux compare quite well. Both are remarkably stable. From our experience, NT isn't even a contender in this area.

As NetWare has gained features, basic hardware requirements have mushroomed. Remember when NetWare used to do well with a 486-based processor and 16MB of server memory? That's changed. Our test server just met the minimum memory configuration for NetWare 5.0, which now requires an Intel Pentium processor to run.

Netware vs. LinuxWe're not berating NetWare for evolving. On the contrary, Novell has improved and added features as requested by large installations. High on the list was the ability to manage and administer multiserver installations. Novell Directory Services (NDS) was the response from Utah, and although a tough pill to swallow, in hindsight it was the right medicine. Corporate America asked for better remote control of the desktop and Novell delivered with ZENworks integrated with NDS. Product support? The company's huge installed base and deep training infrastructure is great.

Also fueling NetWare's "feature creep" were market realities. Database and Web servers? Not a problem. Along the way, both Netscape's FastTrack Web server and Oracle's database have been added to the mix. But does everyone need all the features that NetWare 5.0 delivers? Perhaps not. Enter Linux.

TurboLinux 3.0.1 This is the first reseller Linux distribution that we've seen Pentium-compiled from the get-go. Linux distributions start out equal, with the same kernel and, mostly, the same package set. Differences pop up with how each version is compiled, installed and administered. You'll also find various GUI differences. In TurboLinux's case, the default GUI is afterstep, a nextstep-like front end.

TurboLinux has great hardware detection it is the only distribution we've seen that identified and properly used one test system's full 96MB of memory. There were no hardware discovery problems on any of the boxes we used.

Once the basics are set, get ready for another pleasant surprise the slickest Linux package installer around, turbopkg. This installer makes updating and configuring options easy. Whether you're using the CD source (turbopkg automounts the CD), the Internet (an ftp session is initiated with the vendor's mirror machine automatically), or even a local SMB server, turbopkg hides the mundane, and sometimes confusing, steps. As a result, you can focus on the tasks at hand namely, building the server.

Still, we have several minor beefs with the product. Running in character mode, configuration relies upon several tools, one for every subsystem. Networking, disk, display the list goes on and on. It isn't as clean a system as SuSE Inc.'s YaST, a unified tool for configuring everything. (There is a unified tool available for TurboLinux if you're running X, though.) And we'd like to see a little more work done on the character-based user interface.

The World Has Changed What's best for you and your customers? We like the fact that Turbolinux is affordable and jam-packed with opportunities for reseller value-add. Linux's small footprint makes it deployable on a larger selection of hardware, a feature a small business is certain to appreciate. Performance (as our tests have shown) and stability are impressive, too.

Our enthusiasm is tempered somewhat by the non-tangible items that Linux distribution vendors need to provide: a support infrastructure, reseller programs and the like. To their credit, the vendors are stepping up to the plate. And third parties, such as Linuxcare can be engaged to handle training and support issues. Sure, it's not the one-stop-shopping product, training, service, support offered by Novell or Microsoft, but with a little extra effort on your part, you can provide every service to your clients that these industry giants offer, with potentially more profit for yourself.

NetWare, TurboLinux (and Linux in general) and even NT are worthy contenders for workgroup-sized servers. Each product has its strengths and weaknesses. Simple file and Web service should not be the only metrics used when determining the "best" solution, but if basic performance is what your customers want most, Linux is what they need.

Our main point, though, is that Linux is as valid a choice as NetWare for your customers' servers. What it lacks in features and support is more than made up in speed. Look through the PR smoke and mirrors and select the network operating system set (price, performance and features) that puts a smile on your customers' face, and coins in your pocket.

Talkback Articles
Post TalkBack
 We agree. Over the years... - Scott Hartsell
 While I don't disagree t... - Jim Lancaster
 The reality is we *need*... - Tim Greer
 NDS gets ported to Linux... - Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols
 Plenty of support option... - Jim Valavanis
 Are you guys nuts?! Lin... - Dan Shepherd
 Real world businesses ne... - Aaron Trevena
 The only reason Linux is... - Curt Wuollet
 Samba 1.9.15p8 was porte... - Luke Kenneth Casson Leighton
 Linux does have the data... - Brandon Peterson
 Danny: No they're not nu... - brett bazant
 Reply to Dan Shepherd. ... - ksv
 Speed is not everything.... - Mohammad Bahathir Hashim
 Netware for Small Busine... - Tom Stroup
 Linux is better than NT ... - Angelos Karageorgiou
 I love the article's con... - Lamar Owen
 Proposal for next compar... - Stefan Arbeiter
 Until NDS is ported to L... - Angus Scott-Fleming
 Yo Tom Stroup, If you a... - Donald A. Sime
 Wrong Comparison? With ... - Graham Robinson
 Uh, Lamar... For the ... - John Joganic
 I have no doubt that Lin... - Edmond Wong
 John Joganic, you are a ... - null
 At 10:30 PM 4/13/99 -070... - James Harnett
 What you should have don... - James Harnett & M.R.
 "Linux, NetWare Get Hitc... - james Harnett
 James, thanks for your c... - Eric Carr
 Brett, Danny isn't reall... - Jason Hartzell
 Eric- You can get it ... - Jason
 So various distributions... - Jason Hartzell
 

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