Novell drops NetWare support: What do millions of users do?

Novell's NetWare support is ending and millions of users must choose a new OS with comparable services. This tip outlines possible strategies for replacing NetWare.

Novell has announced that general support for NetWare (on physical machines) will end this month. This includes Open Enterprise Server and Open Enterprise Server 2 on NetWare. Novell, however, is providing extended support for these users through March 2012. Customers continue to receive general support for NetWare 6.5 running as a virtualized operating system under Xen on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES). In addition, customers that migrate their NetWare systems to Open Enterprise Server 2 on SLES continue to receive general support. NetWare services include iPrint, iFolder, directory services via eDirectory, and more.

When NetWare 6.5 is migrated to Open Enterprise Server 2 on SLES, an end user sees little, if any, difference between the NetWare services provided by NetWare 6.5 and Open Enterprise Server 2 on SLES. Essentially, Open Enterprise Server 2 on SLES replaces the NetWare platform for NetWare services.

The decision to drop general support for NetWare is driven by a number of factors, including decline of driver support, decline of compatible new server hardware for NetWare, decline in antivirus support, etc.

Millions of NetWare services customers affected by terminated support
IDC indicates that in 2009, there were more than 930,000 Novell NetWare-based servers running in small to large enterprises, meaning that the number of NetWare users is in the millions. Differing from most operating system licensing models, NetWare is licensed on a per-user basis. According to Jason Williams, recent Product Manager for NetWare at Novell, some large enterprises have as many as 100,000 NetWare user licenses. He says that a NetWare system averages more than 50 users.

Norm O'Neal, Novell End User Computing Technical Specialist at Integrity Network Solutions, a Novell partner, says that a Netware 6.5 platform can service thousands of users depending on the mix of services used, and he says that Open Enterprise Server 2 running on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server can handle more users than NetWare 6.5 because Linux does not have the memory limitations of NetWare (limit: 4 GB RAM).

Open Enterprise Server and NetWare-related services account for a significant amount of revenue for Novell -- since 2006, 21% to 24% of Novell's yearly revenue. From an organizational point of view, Open Enterprise Server and NetWare-related revenue is included in the Workgroup organization revenue at Novell. The importance of the Workgroup revenue to Novell is quite high, providing more than 35% of Novell's overall revenue from 2006 through 2009.

Options for replacing NetWare
Given that there are still millions of users that depend on NetWare services running on NetWare 3 to NetWare 6.5 and general support for Netware is ending, what are your options for replacing NetWare? A number of customers have already migrated to Open Enterprise Server 2 on SLES. A much smaller number has decided to run NetWare 6.5 as a virtualized operating system. Others are migrating to Windows Server 2008. The question is, what should you do?

The most straightforward, simple and probably least expensive thing to do is to migrate your NetWare servers to Open Enterprise Server 2 on SLES. An entire NetWare configuration, file system, directory, etc., can be moved to Open Enterprise Server 2 on SLES using migration tools provided by Novell and/or Novell partners in a single weekend. When the Open Enterprise Server 2 on SLES system is booted, you have essentially the same NetWare services as before.

O'Neal says that his company has migrated over 1,000 NetWare platforms to Open Enterprise Server 2 on SLES in the past year. He also says that NetWare services generally run faster on Open Enterprise Server 2 on SLES because Linux does not have Netware's 4 GB memory limitation.

You also have the choice of migrating your NetWare servers to NetWare 6.5 running as a virtualized operating system on SLES. With this option, you no longer have hardware support issues. And when NetWare 6.5 runs in paravirtualized mode on Xen on SLES, you get almost the same performance as you do running NetWare on physical hardware.

We view running NetWare as a virtualized operating system on SLES and migrating NetWare services to Open Enterprise Server 2 on SLES as short-term, stopgap measures for the following reasons. First, you do not know how long Novell will continue to support NetWare services. NetWare has not been viewed as an important/strategic operating system at Novell for the past several years, so you should question how much longer Novell will continue to support NetWare services. The question now becomes, "Do you want to migrate to NetWare running as a guest operating system or to Open Enterprise Server 2 on SLES and then be faced with another support problem in two or fewer years?"

Second, there is a good chance that another company will acquire Novell. If another company acquires Novell, it is likely that company will sell off parts of Novell to other companies. For example, the Novell Workgroup organization could be sold to one company and Novell's Linux organization kept or sold to yet another company. This would disrupt the relationship between the Workgroup organization where NetWare services live and the Linux organization where SLES resides.

Your should ask yourself in what condition NetWare services will be in two years. Will Novell continue to invest in eDirectory, iFolder, iPrint, GroupWise and XENworks to keep them competitive? Not likely. Would an acquirer of Novell do this? Not likely.

We recommend that if you choose to migrate to NetWare 6.5 running on Xen as a virtualized operating system or migrate to Open Enterprise Server 2 on SLES that you do this only as a stopgap strategy. The decline in use of NetWare services and the possibility that Novell will not keep the services competitive for more than the next two years is too risky. What then?

Another alternative is to replace your NetWare services with similar services running on Linux or Windows Server 2008. Finding equivalent services on Linux will be more difficult than finding them on Windows Server 2008, but you will likely pay more for a migration to Windows Server 2008. Williams says that a Novell customer did a detailed study around the costs to migrate from a NetWare infrastructure to Windows, and the customer estimated that the time to do the migration would be six years at a cost of over $700 million. You should not expect replacing NetWare services with similar services running on Windows Server 2008 to be inexpensive. We recommend that anyone replacing their NetWare service platforms with similar services running on Linux or Windows do a detailed total cost of ownership study.

While some NetWare customers have migrated to Windows over the past several years, Williams says that the migration to Windows has slowed considerably. The reason for the slowdown is that Microsoft now faces customers with heavy investments in more than file systems. NetWare customers have heavy investments in eDirectory services, security, GroupWise, XENworks, etc.

Microsoft argues that Windows Server 2008 is a better platform to migrate to than Linux. Microsoft says that you can use its more modern software applications, such as Exchange Server and Outlook, instead of GroupWise and be able to run thousands of applications on Windows Server 2008. All of Microsoft's services are well integrated. No Linux vendor can provide you with an integrated set of services equivalent to NetWare services except Novell, and we have indicated the risks in taking that approach long term.

You have options for dealing with the drop in support for NetWare. You need to think seriously about continuing with NetWare services on Novell's Linux platform or whether you want to make a break and move to similar services, not NetWare services, on Linux or Windows. Our view is that even though replacing NetWare services with similar services from Microsoft is a costly approach, most companies have more Windows expertise in-house than they have Linux expertise. As a result, many CIOs are likely to direct IT managers to go the Windows route for the long term.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bill Claybrook is a marketing research analyst with over 30 years of experience in the computer industry, with the last 10 years in Linux and open source. From 1999 to 2004, Bill was Research Director, Linux and Open Source, at Aberdeen Group in Boston. He resigned his competitive analyst/Linux product marketing position at Novell in June 2009 after spending over four and a half years at the company. He is now President of New River Marketing Research in Concord, Mass. He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science.

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