Novell fills a niche

ZENworks will help cut the legwork out for Novell managers
Written by Cameron Sturdevant, Contributor

Managers of Novell NetWare 4.x and 5.x servers are in for a lot less exercise in the wake of ZENworks for Servers, version 1.0, becoming available earlier this month. ZENworks for Servers fills a niche often occupied by in-house configuration scripts that are usually installed by walking from server to server with a checklist in one hand and a stack of CDs in the other.

ZENworks for Servers joins Novell's two other ZENworks iterations -- ZENworks for Networks and ZENworks for Desktops -- to provide end-to-end management for NetWare environments. During PC Week US Labs' tests, ZENworks for Servers was used to master two tedious tasks -- implementing standard configuration policies and distributing software files and whole applications to NetWare servers -- all from the comfort of the new Novell ConsoleOne software installed on a PC.

ZENworks for Servers 1.0 has an introductory price of $40 (£24) per user until the end of next month, when it is slated to rise to $75 (£46). Volume discounts are available.

This first version release has none of the technical flaws usually associated with new software, but PC Week US Labs' tests did uncover areas that could use improvement. For starters, the product is NetWare-centric; managers of heterogeneous networks can't use ZENworks for Servers to reduce the number of server management consoles in their operations centres. The second biggest limitation is that each NetWare tree requires a separate copy of the management software, although the tests were able to use a single management console to connect, one at a time, to the various trees in the test network. Finally, the software distribution architecture restricts receiving servers to one distribution point. However, multiple distribution points can distribute files and applications to many receivers simultaneously. Novell officials said version 1.5 of the software, due sometime this year, will allow receivers and distributors to get software from any distributor, thus eliminating some of the finicky planning needed to make sure software deployments work.

NetWare administrators should be ecstatic when they see the latest version of Novell's Java-based server management component, ConsoleOne version 1.2c, which ships with ZENworks for Servers. Unlike the very slow, grainy ConsoleOne, which currently torments all NetWare administrators, version 1.2c is fast and sharp -- which is good, because it's the only way to access ZENworks for Servers.

After installing ZENworks for Servers and ConsoleOne, PC Week Labs started the tests by reading a lot. Like any server management product, ZENworks for Servers requires administrators to define goals and objectives first before implementing the software. Novell's excellent documentation provides numerous worksheets and instructions that make implementing the test suite a straightforward process.

ZENworks for Servers policies are the heart of Novell's product, and they are more than adequate when it comes to defining the rules for governing crucial actions, such as downing a server or deleting log files. For example, PC Week Labs defined a policy that disallowed downing a server if particular users were connected to it -- the number of minutes was easily set before an action could be put into play, and it was easy to specify the time of day when server activities would happen.

The software includes one of the best distribution tools seen. Again, however, managers will have to spend a lot of time configuring the complex web of distributors, channels, subscriptions, subscribers, packages and schedules that Novell uses to accomplish the task. Distributors, which are simply NetWare servers that are the source of the files to be deployed, were set up for the test. Next, subscribers to particular distributors were assigned, and defining schedules and distribution rules, such as hardware and software prerequisites, and actions, such as NLM unloading and loading, were set. There was also the ability to assign NetWare set commands to the test distributions.

PC Week Labs' only complaint was that subscribers could be assigned to only one distributor, thus requiring the deployment of the same package from several distributors to make sure all target machines get the files and applications wanted.

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