Why the Interface on the Novell Server Console is so "Primitive"?

Alex Yu, Ph.D., CNE, MCSE

"This server has a powerful CPU. So, I pulled out the heat sink and the radiating fan. How wonderful! The heat generated by the CPU can be used for cooking."

With the increasing popularity of the Web, the user-unfriendliness of Novell console interface may be overcome. High Technology Software has a product named Webconsole, which allows a Novell network administrator to manage the console remotely by a Web broswer. Now Novell Netware 5 uses Java to add GUI to the server console.

No doubt that Windows NT is very attractive and user-friendly for its GUI. By the first glance NT appears to be a modern product and Netware seems to be old-fashioned. Why Novell still uses a limited GUI for the server console?

Listen carefully. The primary mission of a server, as its name implies, is serving. A server should direct all resources to serve clients; it should not do anything else other than that. For example, usually the cache size of a server is set to maximum. When more RAM is reserved for caching, less memory is available for applications. It is not a problem in a server because it should not be used for running applications anyway. In my experience, for some server when the cache size is maximized, not only running applications is prohibited, copying huge files within a server can also cause crashing. But copying files from a workstation to the server is allowed.

GUI-based servers such as Windows NT and Mac Appleshare are pretty. But they consume a lot of CPU cycles and memory for just drawing the screen. Moreover, more GUI means more things can be go wrong (e.g. bad graphical display driver)! Novell did the right thing by putting less GUI on the server console. Further, in a Netware server you can only perform administrative tasks. As opposed to Novell Netware, Windows NT and Mac Appleshare servers have the same GUI as workstations, they give an impression to users that they can run programs on the server. The following are real stories:

  • A Windows NT installer includes games. Once a network manager was bored and he played games on the server, as a result the utilization of CPU went up to 100%.
  • Once another network administrator used OpenGL graphics as screen savers. Again, the utilization of the CPU reached the maximum level. He asked his boss to buy him new hardware. On another occassion, a consultant was called to a bank to troubleshoot t he poor network performance. As you expect, he found OpenGL ScreenSaver in the server (Thanks Microsoft! That's why we consultants have a job).
  • When I was a Computer Lab Supervisor, some students went to the Mac Appleshare server to run 3D rendering. They thought that the server, which has more RAM and a more powerful CPU, is more suitable for computing-intensive work. As a result...you know.


1. Actually a workstation may run rendering better than a server does. For example, Windows NT Server is designed with large CPU time slice per task. The longer CPU time slice a task has, the less chance the operating system is interrupted by other requests while handling critical network traffic. On the contrary, Windows NT Workstation uses smaller time slice in order to provide fastest response time for each local task. Therefore, NT Workstation provides much faster rendering and graphic processing than NT Server. In addition, as mentioned before, a server usually use maximum cache size. Even though a serverhas more RAM than a workstation, it may have less available RAM for running applications.

2. Linux becomes a major rival against NT for a number of reasons. One of the advantages of Linux is that one can boot Linux into the command line instead of GUI.


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