Novell OES marries NetWare and Linux

Novell produces a directory service for Linux, matches it with admin and management tools and hopes to deliver a breakthrough product. Tom Henderson tests OES and likes what he finds.

Depending on how you look at it, Novell’s Open Enterprise Server is either more of the same old stuff, or a major breakthrough in how advanced services can be built to run on a variety of base operating system kernels.

Based on our Clear Choice Test of OES, we think it’s a major breakthrough in Novell’s long-stated intention to marry its directory and administrative applications to Linux. OES layers a highly competitive directory service onto Linux, provides decidedly evolved administrative and management components and offers very good, egalitarian client support.

With OES you get a choice: traditional NetWare (Version 6.5 with Service Pack 3), or traditional Linux (SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 SLES with Service Pack 1). NetWare shops can now peer Linux applications and services with NetWare-hosted eDirectory and Novell-based identity-management services. On the flip side, Linux-based IT organisations can now plug into a cohesive, mature, encrypted authentication infrastructure that’s commercially supported worldwide.

A single OES licence entitles the user to build two servers of either foundational type and cluster them together. The OES glue that binds the two base operating systems together is eDirectory, which is easier to implement, manage and administer than the open source OpenLDAP directory service. Novell has made the eDirectory services largely congruent across both kernels.

The downside that still remains for both NetWare and Linux users — even with OES — is that connectivity to Windows Active Directory and NT domains creates a duplicate layer of directory services because that integration requires the installation of Samba proxy services to make the necessary connections.

Both versions of OES can be managed by iManager 2.5, a browser plugin that gets to the heart of virtually all OES services worth mentioning — especially Novell’s evolved eDirectory. This application uses browser real estate efficiently but begs for a high-resolution screen. On the Linux side of OES, where iManager leaves off, SLES 9’s Yet Another Setup Tool (YaST) takes over driving the operating system-specific configuration as well as administration detail such as hardware management, low-level settings and DNS/DHCP tasks. In our tests, we hardly used YaST.

Unlike with the Windows 2003 server editions we’ve tested, Linux and MacOS clients aren’t second-class clients. OES provides maximum security measures available for these clients, including easy logon script support and encrypted server communication. The odd client out is Novell’s Desktop System client, based on Linux, which doesn’t have the peer client-side connectivity method that generic Linux, MacOS and Windows clients enjoy.

While both foundation kernels will run on 64-bit CPUs (which we tested and found had no anomalies), both OES application sets are limited to 32-bit use and are only supported by Novell at that level. We found that performance of web-based transaction tasks was only slightly faster (ranging from no appreciable increase to a 7% rise in throughput on SLES 9 OES) than the versions of NetWare 6.5 (DocFinder: 8326) and SLES 9 (DocFinder: 8327) we’ve tested in the past. Novell says that a cross-platform, full 64-bit version set of OES services is scheduled to arrive early next year.

Our tests showed excellent installation compatibility for both kernel foundations across an array of server platforms.

We found the network installation process to be much quicker than installing the OES software from the distribution CDs. Initial configuration of eDirectory on either platform, while unattended, takes time (about 45 minutes for a baseline eDirectory configuration on SLES 9). Subsequent importation of LDAP schema and data from our 3,000-user database was very fast (less than five minutes on NetWare and seven minutes on SuSE Linux).

It also is possible to migrate Windows NT domain information into eDirectory with a little effort. Connecting to a Windows Active Directory tree requires more work, and synchronisation services between eDirectory and Active Directory use Samba, which requires extensive initial manual installation when used with eDirectory.

Clustering Netware and Linux

Once configured either OES foundation can be clustered with any other with surprising ease. Connecting shared resources — such as file systems — was a breeze. One exception was that NetWare OES was unable to handle Common Internet Filing System (CIFS) with concurrent large file copies. Novell says that CIFS support will be improved in an update which will arrive later this month.

We found server application support to be cohesive across both operating system foundations. For organisations that use Apache, Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition, JBoss, Tomcat, MySQL and other open source application platform sets, the OES platform levels the playing field between NetWare kernel-based servers and those running OES SuSE Linux. Very few minor differences exist with these applications between the two server platforms. In addition, a new certificate authority accessible from either foundation worked well and enjoys flexible, RSA-licensed certificate generation and management.

Novell’s NetWare Storage System also allowed us to mount and use a larger number of filing systems, such as the Linux Reiser journalled file system found in SLES 9. By using iFolder — Novell’s web interface to various, supported OES-based filing systems — we could move folders/files on both platforms quickly no matter the client type. This rcp-type (Unix remote copy) method also prevents dragging files and folders through network wires.

We built several clusters: NetWare OES to NetWare OES; SLES OES to SLES OES; and NetWare OES to SLES OES clusters. Clustering applications can be in mirrored form (active to passive) or synchronised (active to active) using CIFS, Network File System, File Transfer Protocol, Apple Filing Protocol and LDAP. We tested all types. The applications that mirrored across the OES servers include MySQL, Apache, Novell iFolder, DHCP and DNS — all of which successfully passed our tests. We did not test NetStorage (because of CIFS issues raised earlier), iPrint or Virtual Office in the clustered configuration.

Both cluster synchronising or mirroring was fast (for example, when we imported a 300MB file into MySQL the data was mirrored effectively within 30 seconds). This was the case even under heavy, sustained loads between all OES foundation combinations. But it was fastest when we clustered NetWare OES to NetWare OES.

With OES, Novell has finally delivered on its basic promise of migrating eDirectory and previously NetWare-based components onto Linux as a fraternal partner. Yet to come are ports to a full 64-bit CPU platform infrastructure. We look forward to additional cohesiveness in storage support — back-up snapshots aren’t supported in SLES OES, as well as certain types of file attributes and encryption — will be welcome when they arrive.

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