Worth Keeping: NetWare 3.2

Community television, unlike its commercial cousin, is not the home of big budgets.

When the folks at Rogers Cable were able, in the mid 1990s, to fund an expensive and sophisticated application that integrated many facets of production management, from script control to closed captioning, they were determined to make it last.

It only ran under Novell NetWare 3.x, so NetWare became the accidental network operating system (NOS) of choice. And when Y2K came along, so came an upgrade to Y2K-ready NetWare 3.2.

For Larry Hunter, team manager for production engineering at Rogers Cable, the reason that NetWare 3.2 is still running, despite being three versions old and discontinued by its vendor, comes down to a matter of money.

“The original product was in the $40,000 – $50,000 range,” he said of the production software that stations still run today. “When we looked at what we needed to do for Y2K, the vendor recommended that we replace it with their Windows NT product, but it was too expensive.” The decision was made to continue with the NetWare version.

“We haven’t had a lot of problems with the network,” Hunter noted. “Only problems from hardware failures without proper backups.”

NetWare 3.2 was actually born in 1998 as an upgrade to the venerable NOS family that dates back to 1987. Big selling features included a graphical system console and an NLM (NetWare loadable module) console command scheduler, and reviews of the time raved about its speed and stability. Said Ross Chevalier, Novell Canada’s director of technology, “The whole 3.x family was the standard everyone looked to for dedicated file services. (NetWare’s) reputation for stability started with the 3.x family.”

But, he noted, times have changed, and so have technology requirements. In its day, NetWare 3.x could mount a then-massive 200 MB disk in a minute to a minute-and-a-half. Novell’s new file system (NetWare 6, available mid-October) can mount eight terabytes in half a second. And the bindery (a file for security and accounting), so well suited to the single location/single server model, has been replaced by a directory. In fact, Novell stopped selling 3.2 a year ago, and will stop supporting it in January 2002.

Still, satisfied users cling to the older product. Michael Comsa, a contractor for Toronto-based Intellect Computer Source, has been working with a customer who has used 3.2 on a file server for seven or eight years. He likes the manageability. “It’s small, and easy to maintain,” he said, adding that much of the administration is handled over a dial-up line from his customer’s head office. He is called in — rarely — when hands-on attention is required.

What has saved NetWare 3.2 for Hunter is the fact that he can ignore it. Dwindling in-house expertise forced the technology department, whose mandate is to take care of production equipment, to tell station management that they would have to find outside support. “It’s a bit too far out now,” he noted. But he’s content to leave it alone because, like the Energizer Bunny, it keeps going.

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