Pulling it all together

Choosing a network operating system for your local area network

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So you’ve decided that a client/server network is best for you and have even tackled the tricky issue of network topologies. Now it’s time to choose a network operating system (NOS), which will control the interaction between all of your linked computers and peripherals in your local area network (LAN). The two leading systems for small businesses are Novell’s NetWare and Microsoft’s Windows NT. But how do you choose’ That depends on the specific needs of your computing environment. However, there are situations better suited to Windows NT than NetWare–and vice versa, says Gerald T. Charles Jr., vice president of systems integration engineering for Virginia-based BDM International Inc., a global information technology company.

Since both products are in the same price range (Windows NT Server 4.0 for five users retails for $809 and Novell NetWare 4.11 for five users costs $1,095), performance and suitability to task, not price, should govern your decision. Most small offices with fewer than 50 users will benefit from the increasing ease of use and installation of the WinNT product, says Charles. Small businesses that use Microsoft’s family of office products are also likely to benefit from the compatibility of these applications with the operating system. On the other hand, if that same environment includes multiple operating systems (i.e., Mac OS, OS/2, Windows 95), NetWare would be a better choice, Charles adds. NetWare is also a superior NOS for handling networks that include multiple servers.

In his book LAN Blueprints: Engineering It Right (McGraw-Hill, $44.95), Charles outlines the following evaluation criteria for deciding which NOS will suit you best:

Network operating system (NOS).

The choice and integration of your NOS may be the most important steps in your implementation plan. With this in mind, the following overall factors should guide your decision:

  • Directory services. These allow users to access a resource on any server without knowing the location of the resource.
  • Product stability. The operating system is tested and proven under a multitude of operating conditions.
  • Quality and quantity of third-party support. This includes hardware, software, service and training.
  • Your staff’s experience. How familiar are they with the features and performance of the NOS in similar network installations’
  • User administration. Establishing and modifying user accounts will be a primary activity. The ease (or lack of) in performing this function, along with using the supplemental tools surrounding these activities, determines the time and trouble expended by administrative staff–and, more importantly, the end user.
  • Other administration and client configuration. How the NOS provides services and the ability of the administrative staff to manage them will consume staff time. These include the ability to manage printing and print queues, disk and file management, audit logging, performance and utilization monitoring management, etc.
  • Security. Obviously, with critical data and resources being managed by the NOS, its security–inherent, administration and supplemental–is important. The NOS should be easy to use and implement but also secure from intrusion by prospective parties looking to compromise your system or its data.
  • Performance. This is the ability to support varying loads–printing, file sharing, additional services installed, the number
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