Technology Paper

Technology Paper


When mainframe and minicomputers provided
the backbone of business computing, there were essentially networked environments
in the sense that "dumb" terminals shared access to a single processor
(the minicomputer or mainframe), printer (or printers) and other peripheral
devices. Files could be shared among users because they were stored
on the same machine. Electrical and operational connections were
available in common and shared applications, and implementation of new
hardware, software and users was a simple task so long as a single vendor
was used. With the proliferation of microcomputers in the business
environment, information became distributed, located on the various hard
drives attached to personal computers in an office, and difficult for other
users to access. Today, network systems which connect disparate hardware,
software and peripherals are commonplace, but the communication program
which makes using these systems has not kept up with the demand for such
environments, although a number of companies are now participating in the
field. This research considers two of the most popular network operating
systems (NOS), NetWare by Novell and Windows NT by Microsoft, and considers
which is appropriate for business applications.

Network Operating Systems

Operating systems are the interface between
individual programs and the user. Through the operating system, the
user is able to name files, move them and otherwise manipulate them, and
issue commands to the computer as to what the user wants to do. Network
operating systems are similar to this, but exist (as the name implies)
in the network environment. Thus a network operating system is used
to issue commands to shared devices, and to provide a background against
which scarce resources are divided among competing users. Ideally,
the network operating system is transparent to the user, who is only aware
of the ability to share information and resources. An efficient NOS
can make the difference between a productive and an unproductive office,
and between workers who are difficult to replace when they leave and those
who are likely to be familiar with the NOS of choice.

Despite their importance, network operating
systems have faced challenges in the market because of the diverse hardware
requirements that they must meet. Because of this, several different
operating systems have been developed, some of which run in place of traditional
(single-user) operating systems, and some of which run in addition to these
systems. OS/2, for example, provides a multi-user environment without
requiring a separate operating system.

NOS development gained widespread acceptance
when companies such as Artisoft (which manufactures Lantastic) introduced
client software which worked with a variety of servers. This made
software manufactured by companies such as Novell (which required special
client-side networking software) vulnerable, and Microsoft's Windows 95
quickly became the client software of choice in the market (although not
always among analysts) when it was introduced since it can interface with
a number of different server systems with complete transparency to the
user. This is the same concept used to develop OS/2 Warp Connect.

Comparison Criteria

Because of the current state of the market,
having 32-bit capability is a requirement in most network environments.

The various NOS alternatives need to offer a strong file and print base,
since that is how most users access and use the networks. Application
services, which includes the ability to run messaging, database, and other
server-based applications efficiently in a client/server network is an
essential requirement of most modern networks. Multiprocessor support
is an essential component, as is fault tolerance, high-quality development
tools, and application support from third-party vendors.

Hardware integration is also a key issue
since the NOS should be able to run on hardware which is readily available
at reasonable rates, and which is likely to continue to be available in
the future. Both the type of processor and the ability to use more
than one processor are important considerations in this regard. A
related issue is the networking infrastructure, which includes the ease
of use of the network transfer protocols and how well the server software
processes multiple LAN adapters and internal routing.

In addition, directory and naming services
should be easy to use, and multiple operating systems (such as DOS, Macintosh,

Unix, OS/2 and Windows 3.x as well as Windows 95) should be supported given
the diversity of most network environments and to offer the greatest flexibility
to systems. Remote-access and Internet-access is also important since
many users in networked environments use the network to access systems
outside their own environments.

Other criteria to be considered when choosing
a NOS system is the after-sale support and the acceptance of the product
in the market. After-sale support is important because any product
is likely to require assistance for its users regardless of how well designed
it is. Both Novell and Microsoft have a variety