Novell, NT, and Linux - Feedback from Mark Conrad

Tue, 05 May 1998 16:09:57 -0400

I do not know if this will be useful to you, but after reading your web article about NT vs. Unix, I decided to share my experience.

Ohio University Eastern is a branch campus of Ohio University (NOT Ohio State University). We are a commuter campus with 800-1000 students, about 20 full-time faculty and staff, and 50 or more part-time and adjunct faculty. We currently have four computer labs (seating 20, 30, 15, and 5) and every full-time faculty and staff member has a computer on their desk. We have about 170 personal computers, all connected to the LAN.

I began working here about 3 years ago. At that time, we were running Netware 3.11 on a 486 PC with 16 MB RAM. I decided we were ready to upgrade our server.

You have to understand that in small environments such as ours, the tech people are generalists. I have to maintain all the client computers, all the network wiring, administer the server, train the personnel, and keep up with changing technology. I am also responsible for our phone system. My background did not include a lot of technical training, so I had to learn a lot on the job. There is only one other person on our campus, and his job deals with our web server and helping faculty incorporate technology into their teaching.

That said, I researched what server platform I should use, and Windows NT was getting very good press. We decided to invest in NT, originally installing NT 3.51 on a Pentium 75 with 64 MB RAM. It crashed. We had trouble with people just logging on properly. I added more memory. We fixed some minor client-side configuration issues. Logons began to work.

Then the server began to crash. No blue-screen-of-death, it would simply freeze. The only solution was to power down and power up. The crashing seemed to be occurr whenever more than 5 people requested the same file (such as trying to start Netscape Navigator). We invested in a Compaq Proliant 800 with two Pentium Pro 200 processors and 160 MB RAM and NT Server 4.0. Our crashes basically stopped and NT basically became stable.

But I am not pleased with its performance, especially its file serving. It requires a lot of computing power to do basic things. It has had one crash since the new server was installed. And of course we have the constant problem that every time we make some little change (such as installing proper print services for Lexmark printers or HP Jetdirects, or reinstalling Powerchute for the UPS monitoring), you have to reboot. I can't be rebooting the server every other day just to test one little configuration change. I have to come in after hours (around here, after hours usually means after 11 pm) to do these things.

I was also hoping for closer ties between the client and the server. The Netware client software was causing us memory problems on the client; going with the Microsoft Windows client solved some of those. I was very disappointed to learn that this was limited; that unless you used the more expensive NT workstation as your client, many security and profiling features were unavailable to you.

In sum, it needs to be rebooted to often and is very slow, even with our configuration. And Microsoft would really rather you had NT Server and NT workstation and pay for it all. And in the end, you get no support from Microsoft itself.

On the plus side, basic installation and administration is easy and is more intuitive than the Netware 3.11 way of doing things. Perhaps other operating systems are just as easy to use; we are just now experimenting with Linux.

We have been using Linux on a 486 33 with 16 MB RAM as our webserver for about two years, and it has worked like a charm. We are so pleased with its performance that we are now experimenting with Linux and Samba to see how to make it work as our network operating system. Our clients will still be various shades of Windows; but I am hoping that I will not have to upgrade to NT 5.0. Instead, by that time, I hope that we will be running Linux. I also hope that the hardware manufacturers will become more supportive of Linux, providing drivers and support more directly.

Mark Conrad
Computer Services Coordinator
Ohio University--Eastern Campus

 <= Back to the Feedback Index

 <= Back to the article