TRANSITIONS

by Wayne M. Krakau - Chicago Computer Guide March, 1994

It's not surprising that civilians and inexperienced techies might be lulled into a sense of complacency on making major network upgrades. It's really shocking when resellers and "consultants", and in-house big system techies are negligent.

For resellers, "consultants", and the like, it's an opportunity lost. Major upgrades take planning, preparation, training, and testing. Except for that rare customer that has 100% of the needed expertise and spare personnel hours to boot, the extra labor and knowledge could be supplied by these outsiders - all for a profit. Either they lack knowledge of the real world or they feel that they can make more money cleaning up the mess after the fact rather than doing the job right in the first place.

For in-house personnel, a major upgrade is an opportunity to justify their existence, improve their status, and rack up points toward their next raise or promotion. These days, it might even provide insurance against the next series of layoffs. Or, it can provide a one-way ticket to the unemployment line.

As an alternative to the unemployment line, you can always argue that "small" computers are unreliable and not worthy to run corporate applications. Then you can get publicity by telling your horror story to reporters for mainframe and minicomputer oriented publications. This from people who normally need several approval signatures of their testing methods to put a program into production that had only a single line of code changed!

The latest series of upgrades that I've seen have been to Netware 3.12 and, to a lesser extent, Netware 4.0. After having one company pull the plug on Netware 4.0, and personally undoing the workstation portion of two upgrades to Netware 3.12, I have gained some insight.

Netware 4.0 was a very rough-edged product. It had problems both within the software and with the documentation. Netware 4.01 is much more stable and comes with improved documentation. While it doesn't follow through with all of the promises associated with Netware 4.x (you will have to wait for version 4.1 for a major improvement there), it is a viable product.

I believe that much of the bad reputation that hounds 4.01 derive from associated products, not the operating system itself. I have observed storms (hurricanes?) of protests in the Btrieve section within Netwire, Novell's own forum within Compuserve, the on-line information service. The protests center on problems running applications developed using old (5.x) versions of Btrieve with new (6.x) versions. I have also discussed these problems with developers within applications software companies. The consensus is that the changes in Btrieve along with some early instabilities caused many programs to fail.

If your applications failed with a new version of Btrieve, and you used Netware 3.x, all you had to do was to switch back to an old version until the compiler publisher modified their compiler (a program to translate from human readable language - or at least computer geek readable - into computer readable commands) and then the applications software vendor released a recompiled version of their product.

If, on the other hand your applications failed after you had upgraded to Netware 4.x, you've got big problems. Old versions of Btrieve aren't compatible! Your only choice is to revert to Netware 3.x. Now you know why I emphasized testing! Either that or getting your resume writing skills up to snuff.

The other related product is the new replacement shell. The shell is a generic name for the program that allows a workstation to communicate with the network. To accommodate all of the new features of Netware 4.0. a completely new shell concept was developed called the VLM, or Virtual Loadable Module. Like the NLMs (Netware Loadable Modules) that make Netware 3.x and 4.x work, VLMs are loaded piecemeal as needed to make the shell work.

This new shell uses radically different methods to communicate with DOS. These methods are so different that VLMs include an emulation feature to simulate the older ODI (Open Datalink Interface) shell for those programs that need it. The problem is that this emulation is not perfect. Some programs just won't work with VLMs.

There is no easy way to tell if a given program will run. Calls to software vendors are one way to find out. Testing is the other. Remember, though, that Netware 4.x absolutely demands VLMs to access all of its advanced features. If your program proves unworkable under VLMs, you have no choice but to either switch to the bindery emulation mode in which Netware 4.x pretends to be 3.x with only 3.x's capabilities, or going back to real 3.x.

If you are running Netware 3.x, you can always go back to the ODI shell. If you are really a masochist, you can even go back to the ancient IPX/NETX shell. Ah, but here it gets complicated. Novell declared the IPX/NETX shell obsolete as of November 1991. At that time the ODI shell had been around quite a while and was mature, stable, and compatible with virtually all applications.

Now, Novell has declared the ODI shell obsolete. If you install Netware 3.12, the documentation tells you to install VLMs, only mentioning the ODI shell as an afterthought. If you didn't know any better, and religiously followed the directions, you could get hit with errors that are bizarre and difficult to track.

For example, applications written in Micro-Focus COBOL, as I write this, are not compatible with VLMs. Many accounting systems are written in this language. It is also very popular for downsizing projects. This is not the company's fault. They are just one of many caught in this trap. To run with VLMs (and by implication with a full-featured implementation of Netware 4.x), first you will have to wait for Micro-Focus to change their compiler. Then you will have to wait for the software developer or your in-house programming staff to recompile the programs. Finally, you will be able to run them.

Novell jumped the gun on this one. It's obvious that jumping into VLMs without planning and testing is dangerous. If you are upgrading to Netware 3.12, in particular, I suggest you don't use them until you either can prove that all of your programs will work, or you absolutely have to because you acquired a new application that absolutely requires VLMs.

Alternatively, I've got a great investment for your layoff settlement money. It's a 900 number for computers that are too shy to communicate with other computers over a network. You have your computer link up via modem with our computer and the two have a private one-on-one private conversation. In no time at all, your computer will have the confidence to communicate freely with its peers. We need start-up funds to place ads on all of the online services like Prodigy, Compuserve and especially the Internet. Note that a multiple-computer 900 line will also be available for those computers with "special" needs.

1994, Wayne M. Krakau