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NetWare-to-Unix software

A comparative look at three NetWare-Unix integration products

By Ken Phillips

March  1996
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Mix oil and water? Melding Unix and NetWare may be tricky business, but it is easier than one might think. We look at three products that handle the grunt work. (2,500 words including two sidebars)

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It didn't take long for system and network administrators to look for a way to link Unix networks with Novell NetWare LANs. Unix machines dominate mission-critical applications, but the NetWare climate affords a shower of productivity software, laser printers, and peripherals. While the Unix user eyes the PC user's Excel spreadsheet, the PC user wishes for a less-congested file server and perhaps easier access to a Unix terminal.

A handful of candidates can tackle this job, and we tested three: NetCon Business System's NetConMT 6.0, Puzzle Systems' SoftNet Utilities 2.2, and SunSoft's SolarNet PC Server Services 1.1. The SolarNet product is comparatively similar to a version of TotalNET Advanced Server, a product of Syntax Inc. (For other options for making the Unix-NetWare connection, see the attached sidebar "Recipes for Unix-NetWare integration".)


Server or client?
The primary function of each contender is to create a NetWare-compatible file server on a Unix host. This enables NetWare client PCs to attach to the Unix box for file and print services. In addition, NetConMT and SolarNet PC Server Services can be linked to "back room" client/server applications.

The communication protocol each product uses is not TCP/IP but IPX/SPX, which is the native protocol for Novell NetWare LANs. This scheme has the advantage of eliminating maintenance headaches on the PC side. There is no TCP/IP stack to install on the PCs, and therefore, no time or cash outlay per PC.

On the other side of the fence, Unix users receive enhanced possibilities for running PC applications and sharing PC data. Each vendor supplies some form of NetWare client capability, allowing a Unix user to mount NetWare file server directories and print queues. If a Unix user has a DOS or Windows emulation package, such as SunSoft's Wabi, he or she can run PC applications installed on other NetWare file servers.

Another common feature of these integration products (but unknown to stock NetWare) is the ability for NetWare PC users to run character-based Unix applications through terminal emulation. Such capability means savings in the equipment budget, as well as desktop real estate, by combining NetWare and Unix in one chunk of hardware. (See the attached sidebar for more detail about each product.)

Setting up
Our test network included a Sun SPARCstation LX running Solaris 2.4, an IBM Model 95A server PC running Novell NetWare 4.1, an IBM Model 90 server PC running NetWare 3.12, and NetWare clients consisting of Microsoft Windows-based PCs outfitted with the standard Open Datalink Interface and Virtual Loadable Module drivers. We installed each tested product on the 50-MHz micro-SPARC-based SPARCstation.

One of the products, SoftNet Utilities, was extremely simple to install through a GUI-based program. We also tried the command-line install program, but discovered a minor problem with its ability to recognize the existing NetWare server. That, however, was correctable with a file edit. The other two were more complicated to install and relied on command-line instructions.

Each product created a NetWare SYS volume on the Unix hard disk, complete with standard directories such as LOGIN and PUBLIC. To login to SoftNet Utilities as the default server, we had to copy login utilities from our real NetWare server, but the others supplied login utilities.

Puzzle Systems approached its product from a conservative perspective, namely, using standard NetWare and Unix utilities to handle configuration. We liked that approach because it cuts down on the management applications one must learn. For configuring printers (usually the hardest part) Puzzle supplied a graphical printer utility along with command line programs.

SolarNet PC Server Services installation offered two setup modes -- auto-configure, to be used when there is no other NetWare server on the network, and a custom configuration mode (which we used) to allow the new server to meld with an existing NetWare LAN. Either way, there is little to do for configuration, although the process nevertheless requires some time and reading. Some maintenance utilities came in the form of a fleet of Unix command-line programs, with a shell utility to control them. However, exporting volumes and printers required grunt-level file editing.

Mounting the SolarNet PC Server Services SYS volume was an easy affair, requiring only a minor adjustment to login with a password that included capital letters. Unix users also have limited access to other NetWare server resources. We transferred files and printed to a NetWare printer using special Unix commands.

NetConMT's configuration utility is reminiscent of NetWare's SYSCON, but we found it confusing in some respects, and we preferred using a text editor and the command line for maintenance. Fortunately, the installation process sets up the superstructure better now than it did in previous versions, so exporting the new NetWare drives/printers and mapping initial users does not require use of the utility. In fact, at a NetWare client PC we were able to map a drive letter to the NetConMT SYS volume immediately after installation, without prior configuration, using a Unix username.

One sizable advantage NetConMT held over the others was its inclusion of NetWare client-side software for the benefit of Unix users. We easily mounted a true NetWare server's volume in the Unix filesystem for Unix users with only a command. Therefore, at no extra charge the Unix users can share data files with PC users and even run Windows applications if they have SunSoft Wabi or Insignia Solutions's SoftWindows. (The January Connectivity column, "The world in a (single!) box" looks at PC emulation on Unix-based desktops.)

Each product, except SoftNet Utilities, had multithreading capability for Solaris. All were multiprocessor aware. SolarNet PC Server Services and SoftNet Utilities each required roughly 400K of server memory per user. NetConMT cut that back to a miserly 50K. SoftNet Utilities is designed for LANs up to 250 users (busy printers count as users), but the others are relatively unlimited in the number they can serve.

Now serving number 00:80:72:00:10:fd
NetWare clients, as expected, noticed little difference when connecting to the NetWare-compatible servers. We transferred files, opened Windows applications, and printed to Unix printers easily, although we experienced an unresolved print problem with SolarNet PC Server Services (the CAPTURE utility) that SunSoft believed to be a configuration error.

Logins were an issue for SolarNet PC Server Services, however. It does not yet support NetWare 3.12's encrypted logins, which means that passwords remain exposed to a sniffer. The next version to ship will offer encrypted login support.

All of the products allowed attachment via the newer VLM client utilities (as well as NETX), but none offered any capability to mesh with NetWare 4's NetWare Directory Services.

Each also lacked the ability to run NetWare Loadable Module-based software because NLMs require Intel CPUs. This is unfortunate since NLM-based software is plentiful for virus detection, management, software metering, and so on.

We compared performance by timing the transfer of files to and from each server. We also checked the startup delay for applications such as Microsoft Word for Windows, which we installed on the Unix host.

None of the products were hot rods, but speed isn't the most important factor when leveraging existing equipment. The only real surprise was that SolarNet PC Server Services was slower than the others -- taking about 1 1/2 times as long to deliver or accept the files. SunSoft recommends running its server on a multiprocessor host. The other two were equivalent to each other and to our older IBM Model 90 NetWare 3.12 server.

If PC users ask for Unix character-based applications, all three products can deliver. NetConMT has a fast SPX-based multisession terminal emulator (ANSI & VT100). SolarNet PC Server Services has a similar emulator, plus support for NVT- and INT14-based third party emulators. (There is a good chance any site will own at least one brand of INT14 or NVT emulator, and users may wish to keep using them.) SoftNet Utilities supports INT14 emulators and provides a basic VT52 model. We logged on from each of these to check e-mail and perform other tasks.

Connecting the world
SolarNet PC Server Services had a tremendous advantage over the rest in one respect -- enterprise connectivity. While the other two could only serve NetWare LAN clients, SolarNet PC Server Services came with support for AppleTalk and NetBIOS-based LANs, making it a shoo-in for mixed-LAN enterprises. The NetBIOS support was also routable across network segments -- normally a limiting factor on NetBIOS LANs. Or, as with NetConMT, developers can access the NetBIOS API in their network-aware communications applications.

NetCon and SunSoft take a broader view of their responsibilities than Puzzle Systems, supporting several APIs and a handful of back room servers. Such servers help eliminate the clutter and heat of multiple PCs dedicated to various functions such as fax, images, database, etc. by placing those servers on a single Unix box.

NetConMT supports third-party servers including VSI*FAX, Oracle databases, Fujitsu's Hierarchical Storage Management System, and Solid Systems CD-ROM jukebox servers. The Oracle server translates IPX-based user queries for a TCP/IP-based database server. PC Server Services offers support in conjunction with their Solstice connect/NW (aka PC Protocol Services) product for Lotus Notes and Oracle and Sybase databases. SoftNet Utilities can only muster limited API support for developers -- compliance with Novell's Transport Layer Interface.

NetConMT also held another ace -- X Window System application support over IPX/SPX. We tried using Hummingbird Communications' popular Exceed 5 for Windows X server without installing a TCP/IP stack on the PC. The WinSock interface provided by NetCon made the connection to the Sun over IPX/SPX, requiring little setup. We also tried the MicroX-Win X server with success, as well as other WinSock-based applications including the Netscape Web browser.

If that weren't enough, NetConMT also provides firewall capability. When configured with additional network adapters at the NetWare and NetConMT servers, traffic between an IPX/SPX network and a TCP/IP network can be kept safe.

The client
NetConMT was the only product to bundle NetWare client software for Unix users. However, although not widely advertised, SunSoft also offers SolarNet LAN Client 1.1 which provides client access to PC LAN servers including NetWare and Microsoft LAN Manager. SunSoft's product requires Solaris 2.4, and installs easily.

Puzzle Systems chose a different route, developing SoftNet NFS for the NetWare server side to allow NFS-based directory and printer mounts. Like SoftNet Utilities, we found SoftNet NFS 2.02 simple to install and configure on an existing NetWare PC file server.

We tested each client-side software by logging in to the NetWare server, transferring files using Unix commands, and accessing applications from SunSoft's Wabi 2.1. We noted no trouble with NetConMT, but could not get past a successful login to mount a volume under SolarNet LAN Client. Again, SunSoft believed our difficulty to be a configuration problem, but it remained unsolved as of press time.

SoftNet NFS had problems with file locking and hanging under Wabi 2.1, but these may be corrected with post 2.1 releases of Wabi.

What to buy
We view each of these products as a solid contender for different reasons. SoftNet Utilities is easy to get running and easy to understand because it uses native configuration utilities. If your operation is small, it is a good choice because it causes little administrator disruption.

SolarNet PC Server Services, while giving us the most problems and least performance, is the only choice for enterprise networking since it can tie-in non-NetWare LANs. (Editor's Note -- We understand from SunSoft the company is preparing a new version of SolarNet PC Server Services. SunWorld Online asked SunSoft to brief us on likely changes to SolarNet PC Server Services. The company declined.)

NetConMT, like SolarNet PC Server Services, offers a stronger feature set than SoftNet Utilities, bundles a NetWare client, and appeals to the Unix-literate.

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Review summary

NetConMT 6.0
NetCon Business Systems
5 Progress Street
Edison, NJ 08820
908-756-9220 fax

Price $7995/253 NetWare users

Summary Harder to setup, but has a great features set including NetWare client, multiscreen terminal emulation, administration utilities, and support for third-party client/server applications.

SoftNet Utilities 2.2
Puzzle Systems Corp.
16360 Monterey Road, Ste. 250
Morgan Hill, CA 95037
408-779-5058 fax

Price $6,999/250 NetWare users/printers (SoftNet NFS for client services costs $999 for the Personal Edition, $2,999 for the Enterprise Edition)

Summary Easy to install and manage, but NetWare client capability requires a separate product for the NetWare server.

SolarNet PC Server Services 1.1
SunSoft Inc.
Chelmsford, Mass.

Price $1,995/25 clients (LAN Client 1.1 priced separately at $299/single license, $18,500/100 user license)

Summary Full-featured, links with back room servers, and ties in AppleTalk or NetBIOS-based LANs as well as NetWare, but it is harder to configure, and some features are touchy. Keep your eyes peeled for a new version expected soon.

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Recipes for Unix-NetWare integration

There is more than one way to cook up network integration between Novell NetWare and Unix. It all depends on

  1. what users are hungry for, and
  2. who pays.

Client PC maintenance, NetWare server performance, and Unix resource degradation are the primary overhead issues to consider, ultimately impacting either the NetWare or the Unix user. Don't forget that the network administrators time is a vital ingredient.

Recipes for NetWare users

Most NetWare clients in a mixed-OS environment want two things: more disk space and access to Unix mission-critical applications. TCP/IP networking software, installed at each PC, can satisfy most needs -- the ability to run Unix character-based applications through terminal emulation, access to Unix printers, e-mail, and file transfer.

Many of these packages include NFS client -- or even server -- capability to let users share disks transparently. TCP/IP networking packages can be had from many vendors, including Novell, Wollongong, NetManage, Frontier Technologies, Distinct, IBM, and others.

However, the administrator may take a large maintenance hit by having to get TCP/IP up and running on the NetWare client PCs. NetWare's IPX/SPX protocol and TCP/IP can coexist on the same network with no problem, but getting the drivers for both to load properly may require some effort.

Gateway products, such as Firefox' NOV*IX for NetWare, centralize Unix access at the NetWare file server rather than at the individual client PCs. As another alternative, placing a look-alike NetWare server on a Unix computer is an easy way to leverage Unix disk resources, and most of those products also include terminal emulation. Both of these server-based plans prevent having to make changes to client machines, although the servers themselves lose some performance in either case.

Running applications is the main event, but graphical Unix applications place a big drain on client PC resources. X server software is the most expensive integration software to buy, and requires both snappy PC hardware and the installation of a TCP/IP protocol stack.

You can also serve Internet access -- E-mail, Web browsing, news reading, etc. -- to NetWare users with the preceeding technologies. NetWare server applications (such as Firefox' NOV*IX for Internet) again dish up access for NetWare clients as a whole, and standalone Internet connectivity software which include TCP/IP protocol stacks are everywhere. Puzzle Systems' SoftNet WEBserv even allows the NetWare server to function as an ftp or Web server.

Recipes for Unix users

Unix users can similarly benefit from association with NetWare LANs -- mainly plentiful laser printers and peripherals, and a wide variety of productivity applications. NetWare client software, available from several sources, lets Unix users login to NetWare servers to share filesystems. However, the users must have a DOS or Windows emulator (such as Insignia Solutions SoftWindows or SunSoft Wabi) to run PC applications, and speed is often disappointing.

Again, rather than cluttering the Unix environment, NetWare servers can be taught to recognize Unix clients without modification. Novell NetWare NFS and Puzzle Systems' SoftNet NFS, for example, put out the welcome mat for any NFS client.

Remote control software adds another wrinkle. UniPress Software's CoSession/PC2X, Quarterdeck Office Systems' DESQview/X, and Tera Technologies' Network PC Access each grab control of the PC keyboard and mouse, resulting in remote program execution (including applications on the NetWare file server) and in the case of CoSession/PC2X, improved help desk capability. DESQview/X -- a real chameleon -- also provides an X server to the PC user.

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About the author
Ken Phillips ( is a freelance writer and co-author of DOS-Unix Networking and Internetworking. He spent eight years developing DOS software, specializing in cross-platform interfaces. Reach Ken at