NetWare-Linux love child turned up to 11

SUSE Linux 11 SP1, that is

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Novell and SUSE Linux may technically be separate companies, but they are owned by the same Attachmate conglomerate and they still have to work together on specific products, such as Open Enterprise Server, which bolts NetWare print and file services to SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.

In the wake of buying Novell for $2.2bn back in April, SUSE Linux was broken out as a separate division and its headquarters moved back to its Nuremburg, Germany, stomping grounds.

The identity management, security, directory, NetWare support contracts, and Open Enterprise Server, an amalgam of NetWare services ported to run atop SLES, were kept in a separate Novell division headquartered in Provo, Utah, which is Novell's old stomping grounds. An alien visiting earth would never even know the $210m Novell acquisition of SUSE Linux occurred in November 2003 and would think that the two units had partnered to create a hybrid that in essence makes Linux look like NetWare.

History lesson

That is basically what Open Enterprise Server 2, launched in October 2007 and updated with a service pack, did atop SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10. The original OES 1, which came out in March 2005, had a much broader mandate and put NetWare and Linux on an equal footing, with customers able to run NetWare services on top of a Linux kernel or Linux services atop a NetWare kernel. But in the intervening years, as Novell's NetWare business declined, the company stopped development for NetWare.

"People still do use NetWare, but we don't sell NetWare and we have not done any development on NetWare for years," Sophia Germanides, product marketing manager of Open Enterprise Server at the reconstituted Novell, tells El Reg.

She says that according to surveys done by Novell, about 80 per cent of the NetWare workloads have been moved over to the OES NetWare-Linux hybrid, even though there are times when customers get stubborn and want, for whatever reason, to keep actual NetWare running. The last release of NetWare was 6.5, and you can run it inside a Xen hypverisor, which some customers also do.

The main thing that Attachmate is concerned with is that it has stopped the crashing NetWare-OES business, something the old Novell did do as it tried to more aggressively shift customers to Linux. "The business is close to stable," says Germanides. "The big drops are in the past and Attachmate is breathing new life back into this business and re-investing in the core technologies that put Novell on the map in the first place."

To be fair to the old Novell, considering the corner that NetWare was backed into, it would be hard to come up with a better strategy against the onslaught of Windows and Linux in the data centers and under the desks of the world. The OES hybrid was a practical solution to a tough situation. The problem with Novell was that it was a public company that had to show profits and could not be generous to NetWare shops to get them to move to Linux or OES quickly.

The problem with OES 1 and 2 as far as current and prospective customers are concerned is that they run atop old variants of the SLES 10 variant of Linux, which is many years older than SLES 11 SP1 in terms of hardware support and, perhaps more importantly, integrating with an updated patching and management system that Novell created for SLES 11. There are companies that use a mix of OES and SLES 11 and using two different support mechanisms is a pain in the neck. Now, these shops can just use SUSE Manager and be done with it. The SLES and OES source code is kept in two separate repositories, by the way.

Enter OES 11, stage left

With the third iteration of OES, Novell is synchronizing its release numbers with SLES and therefore today's update is called OES 11 instead of OES 3. The switch from SLES 10 to SLES 11 is the biggest change in the OES stack, but there are other nips and tucks and changes, as well as some technology previews.

The move to SLES 11 means OES customers have access to a new Linux Volume Manager that can create storage partitions larger than 2TB. Novell Storage Services, the core file system used by NetWare that was ported to the Linux kernel seven years ago, can now be put on the same physical server disk as the system partition, and sysadmins can create NSS and POSIX pools and cluster them from a new GUI.

One enhancement makes Domain Services for Windows, which makes Novell's eDirectory user authentication and file access software look and smell like Microsoft's Active Directory, play better with more recent versions of Windows on the server and the desktop. (Domain Services for Windows was release in December 2008 with OES 2 SP1.) The OES 11 update now allows for NetWare servers to be upgraded in place to OES 11 in one shot.

OES 11 customers will have an entitlement to the Novell's Filr "dropbox" file service when it goes into preview early next year. Filr creates a merged view of files from various systems than end users have access to on the network and makes them look local for each user. Filr also presents these files in whatever native interface that a smartphone, tablet, or PC uses. You can think of it as iFolder with the Ethernet wires cut. (You can see a demo of Filr here.)

OES 11 is also now compatible with SUSE Studio, the online software appliance creator that the new Novell enhanced back in July to spin up mainframe-Linux appliances. SUSE Studio can spin up SLES appliances for local use atop various hypervisors as well as for Amazon's EC2 compute cloud.

OES does not have a subscription fee like open source code does, but a real license fee. OES 11 is also less expensive than OES 1 SP1, which is good news for NetWare and OES customers alike. OES 2 SP1 cost $258 per seat, but OES 11 costs $174 per seat. ®

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