OS UPDATE - Part 6

by Wayne M. Krakau - Chicago Computer Guide, January 1999
Okay! This is it. Here is the sixth and FINAL column in my series on operating system updates. (Hold the applause and try to keep the jeering to a minimum.) This article contains the remainder of my coverage of NetWare 5 and a totally unbiased summary of the various operating systems.
NetWare 5 introduces a new file format called Novell Storage Services (NSS). As with some of the other features that I’ve mentioned, NSS is a bit of a good news/bad news story. The good news is that NSS handles large volumes with incredible efficiency. Memory use for disk management and acceleration is down. The minimum amount of RAM required to mount a given volume had dropped to way below V4.11 levels. Obviously, having more total memory in a server allows for more caching and therefore more speed, but you might be able to get away with less total RAM, especially when dealing with volumes that are only occasionally mounted, such as optical disks that only contain archival information, or CDs containing seldom-used reference databases. Also, if you have a RAM chip failure, you may be able to remove the offending chip and limp along at a slower speed while waiting for the replacement chip.
The other advantage in NSS improved mounting speeds. I have heard reports form the field that 50GB NSS volumes mount faster than 1GB NW 4.x style volumes in the same server! For those running 50GB or larger volumes, this is a fantastic improvement. For most of those running smaller volumes, this improvement is handy, but not that important. The exception is for those running dual, redundant servers whose recovery cycle is dependent upon mounting speed. One dual-server NetWare 4.11 system that I’ve designed mounts a 22GB, 60% full volume in less than 90 seconds. While this is not exactly snail-like performance, users may get impatient during that delay and reboot their workstations, potentially losing their work. A 15-second NSS mount time (my guess based on the examples that I’ve seen) would keep the impatient types from either giving the three-fingered salute (CTRL-ALT-DELETE) or pushing the RESET button.
The bad news about NSS is that it doesn’t support software mirroring (which isn’t that common anymore), file compression or the Transaction Tracking System (TTS). If you depend on the extra space gained by file compression, you will be disappointed. Because of some problems with early versions of NetWare’s file compression routines, it has gained a bad reputation, even though it has been very reliable in its recent incarnations. I suspect that this is the reason that I haven’t been able to find any confirmation that Novell is working to add file compression to NSS. Either they aren’t doing it, or their keeping fairly quiet about it. (My apologies if I simply missed some announcement about this).
The lack of transaction tracking, however, will be a temporary inconvenience, as Novell is working on adding that to NSS. Meanwhile, the SYS volume, which must have TTS, has to use the NW 4.x style format. Also, any volume that contains data explicitly protected by TTS should avoid NSS. With NSS, you will also lose the seldom mentioned, but quite handy implicit TTS protection that attempts to protect non-TTS files whenever possible. (Work with NetWare servers for a long time and you’ll see that implicit protection in action.)
A handy improvement to memory management NetWare 5 is the more precise control of the dump memory function after an ABEND (abnormal end - Geekspeak for certain types of crashes). In NetWare 4.x and below, you needed enough room on your DOS partition to hold a copy of all memory after an ABEND, with room for multiple copies being desirable. Since I am now frequently selling servers with 1GB of RAM, I had to configure huge DOS partitions. NetWare 5 dumps just the critical portion of RAM needed to debug the system, so I can now fit many dumped copies of memory onto a small DOS partition.
Oh, if you’d like to buy just about every disk drive ever made, NSS can handle up to eight "ZetaBytes" where one "ZetaByte" is defined as one million terabytes. (Note that this definition of ZetaBytes only appears one website other than Novell’s. According to all other references, the international standard for prefixes is as follows: Kilo, Mega, Giga, Tera, Peta, Exa, Zetta, and Yotta, respectively, with no mention of Zeta with one "t". This leads me to believe that the correct prefix would be "Exa". Aha, one last Novell standards violation needing eradication, as well as proof that the Web truly is the great black hole of wasted time!)
And now on to the unbiased summary of operating systems that I promised you. Oops. That’s actually a lie. You won’t be getting an unbiased opinion. You’ll have to settle for mine. If you’ve read my columns for very long, you have probably realized that I don’t believe there is such a thing as an unbiased opinion on ANYTHING. There are only opinions from people who admit their prejudices and technological limitations, and those from people who don’t. In my case, since I have worked on mainframes, minis, individual PCs, LANs, and WANs, including more terribly obscure desktop and network operating systems than even I want to remember, I hope you will feel that my years working on NetWare with DOS, Windows 3.x and Windows 9x workstations do not completely invalidate my opinions. Perhaps they could be considered at least interesting, if not necessarily accurate or universally espoused.
First, regarding workstations, I wholeheartedly agree with the Gartner Group and many other parties who believe that NT Workstation has too many hardware and software compatibility problems to be effective for most organizations. Almost all of my clients have software that won’t run under NT or hardware that is either not supported by NT, or simply not powerful enough for it. Even the engineering clients who I expected to adopt NT Workstation in droves can’t run it due to incompatibilities with existing software. If you are starting with a clean slate, and can afford its demands and limitations, then you should know that NT workstation will eventually be THE desktop operating system, so you might want to start with it now, but you don’t have to.
As to Windows 98, if you buy a new machine already equipped with it, then use it. If you have computers equipped with OS Release 2 of Windows 95, then keep it, since you already have most of Windows 98's speed and interface advantages. Even if you have an earlier release of Windows 95, I’d suggest that you wait until at least the first Service Pack for Windows 98 is released before you upgrade. (Microsoft finally relented and is creating a Service Pack.) Windows 98 is currently far too buggy to try without a good reason.
How about the network operating system? You can probably infer from the previous articles in this series that I still prefer NetWare. Besides the vaporware issue (NetWare 5 is here, NT 5 isn’t), from what I’ve seen of NT 5 Server, most of its key "advances" are merely implementations of features that NetWare has had for some time and has and perfected over the years. For some of these features, with directory services being the most important, the underlying design isn’t as good as Novell’s current product, as evidenced by suggestions in the national press that even if you standardize completely on NT Server, you should use Novell’s NDS to manage it. Also, Novell is certainly not going to sit still and let Microsoft catch up.
As to market issues, after NT 5 Server is relatively stable (anywhere from six months to two years after its release) I will probably offer it as an alternative to NetWare for those clients who demand it, as long as they understand Microsoft’s sad history with handling bugs. (See Part 2 of this series for more details.)
What about the name change from Windows NT 5 to Windows 2000? Am I the only one who sees this as an implication that Microsoft is embarrassed by NT 4 and wants to dissociate NT 5 from it? Also, what were they thinking about when they came up with that name? These days, the only computer-related thing that civilians (normal folks as opposed to computer geeks) know about the phrase "2000" is the Millennium Bug! Why associate your product with a disaster? What’s next, a Titanic II cruise of the North Atlantic?
�1998, Wayne M. Krakau