Moving Forward One Step Back at a Time

Last week we had the opportunity to participate in a trade show reuniting the IT directors from about 45 organizations, all from the same vertical market. Of these 45 organizations, about 15 of them are still running Novell solutions, including OES, GroupWise and/or ZENworks. Evidently, over the years, many of them have migrated over to Microsoft-based networks.

We had some interesting conversations with a lot of these directors, including those that have moved off Novell products, and because we’ve been attending this trade show for quite a few years, some of them confided in us about their migrations.

To begin with, most of these organizations took an average of 3 years to complete their migrations, even the smaller ones (they range from 1200-5000 users). They realized – once they had started down the path – that it was more than just saying “we’re gonna get rid of Novell and go to Microsoft”. It seems a lot of them had not taken into consideration that it would also involve a major change in their “toolset”: all the little batch files and scripts, third-party tools, workflows and procedures they had built over the years to manage and maintain their Novell infrastructure now had to be, well….thrown out the window! Everything had to be re-invented for the new environment. Not only that, but resources that were very skilled with the Novell software now had to be retrained on Microsoft solutions. Some of them wanted nothing to do with this and left the organizations.

On the OES side, we heard of customers that transferred all of their file and print services to Windows and were now looking for a third-party tool to do what NetStorage used to do for them on OES. Seriously? Not to mention how much more complex it became for them to manage simple file system rights, compared to how easy and powerful these are with eDirectory.

GroupWise: one customer, who had been running a single GroupWise server for all of his 2000 users, went to Exchange and ended up with four servers – for the same number of users! Now, I realize that in an era of virtualization we don’t have to deal with physical boxes to manage, but you still have to patch, maintain and monitor FOUR servers instead of ONE! I’m not great with numbers, but if I do the math, that comes out to, ummm…four times the work!

ZENworks: this is where the most regrets were expressed. Those who actually had ZENworks as an endpoint management solution and moved to Microsoft also adopted SCCM (talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water – ZENworks 11 works just as well in a Microsoft environment!). One customer said, “If I had to do it all over, I would keep ZENworks. SCCM is just such a beast!” Another customer, who’s now in his fourth year migrating to Microsoft, is still running an old ZENworks 7 server (can you spell O.L.D.!) and able to do more with it than his staff has been able to do with SCCM – two years after they installed it!

These are real-life stories and comments, folks, and they make me wonder what these customers are getting from these migrations after all of these resource-sucking, time-wasting, expensive hours/months/years that is so fantastic. Most of them, when talking about their experiences, are not sounding all that thrilled about their new toys.


Help me understand!


  1. Simon Flood says:

    NetStorage seems to be one of those services that users and administrators take for granted. When systems have been migrated to Windows (or anything non-Novell) it’s missed by users yet it’s difficult to find a replacement, certainly not at the same price as NetStorage (it’s free, included with OES).

    Hopefully some of those people are not so anti-Novell that they’ll dismiss Novell’s forthcoming Filr product which will be the replacement for NetStorage (and iFolder) going forwards. It’s free for OES customers with current maintenance but available as a charged for product for others. For more information see

  2. Totally agree! NetStorage, although underused at most customer sites, is definitely very much appreciated by OES customers.

    And yes – Filr is going to bring file sharing and management to a whole new level! We’re already seeing a huge push to OES 11 from customers so they can be ready for Filr. Now, like ZENworks & Vibe, hopefully we can help Microsoft customers see the light and make them understand that these solutions work (natively!) in those environments as well!

  3. Normand says:

    It,s not always the best product that wins nor the most cost efficient. There are other less tangible items that influence a decision…..

  4. Now 30 years in IT, I still remember installing Novell 2.0. While Novell products haven’t always been perfect, they have continually offered a more superior product, especially with regard to cost and support. What has been missing is the marketing. For me the rise of Linux broke the back of the old MS/Novell debate, although I still hear comments that Novell is old out of date technology. How wrong can people be? They are just misinformed and this comes back to marketing. I’ve had 3rd party studies done by a MS shop specifying that Groupwise was the better solution and still management caved at the last minute due to perception of other business pears. “Why would such a forward looking company go back to using Groupwise?” One can only shake the head. Where I am now, we have just migrated to OES and Groupwise and are now starting the reap the benefits as people discover what they can now do that they couldn’t do before. We also have a rock solid email system. Sweet! I hope that Novell continues and remains at the head of the curve in all the areas that matter.

  5. Mike Glenn says:

    “There are other less tangible items that influence a decision….”

    ….Yeah; like who just finished playing a round of golf with the CEO.

  6. Wayne Burr says:

    Sadly, it’s been my experience over the past 25 years or so that the vast majority of Senior Management or other final decision makers have not come into the role ‘through the ranks’ so to speak, and have never actually performed many (if any) of the tasks that the admins and other support staff are expected to do. This leaves them very succeptible to Microsoft’s great marketing gimick of ‘its the product that you have always used’, and the other fantastic statement ‘you won’t have to re-train all your staff’. From what I’ve seen, these are really powerful motivating statements for the uninformed, as it implies that EVERYBODY knows how the products work, and that they won’t have to spend ANY money on training, which we all know is blatently false. You have to train your staff regardless, if you don’t, they will eventually leave.
    I’ve used both Novell and Microsoft products over the years extensively, and far and away the stuff that Novell has produced is much easier to learn, and really works as promised. ZCM really has no equal performance wise out there currently, and it’s really too bad that they can’t use marketing nearly as effectively as Microsoft to sell thier product.
    Maybe I’m totally mistaken, but I’ve known managers who cannot believe that a cheaper, less cumbersome, easier to use product is worthwhile to purchase. ‘If it doesn’t cost a ton now, and lots down the road, it musn’t be very good’ seems to be very common thinking.
    Alot of that comes from the resellers too, who see a great cash cow in promoting Microsoft products over any other solution.

  7. I’m a die hard Novell loyalist – but I jumped ship. I had to in order to stay employed.

    We just transitioned from Novell to MS this past summer. The change involved touching some 4000 workstations and a couple of dozen servers.. and we got it done in just a few short months with a crew of 11 – so I don’t really buy the migration timeline that the author is suggesting.

    Finding a replacement for Netstorage wasn’t an easy task – but our new product is far superior to Novell’s offerings. Its WebDAV even works with modern desktop OSes like Windows Vista and 7.. there’s none of that “Just use a 3rd party WebDAV” nonsense.

    I REALLY would’ve like to keep ZCM – but ZCM 10 was so buggy that nobody wanted to give it another chance. Sorry Novell…

    There was no way we where going down the Exchange path.. and we raised a few eyebrows when we openly laughed at people who suggested that because we where migrating to MS we just “need Exchange”. Nope.. we went Google – and I’m really surprised about how well it’s going.

    After running MS servers for almost a year here are my findings from the trench

    * the biggest thing I miss is how well Novell provided file services. It just worked… and it worked well. NTFS’s ACLs are embedded into every file and directory, so when you make a change the client has to molest every part of the path.. it’s slow and inefficient. Move a file or directory and the ACLs are stuck to it, resulting in some weirdness that’s described as a feature. WTH??

    * eDir is still superior to mAD.
    * Novell/OES File services are better than MS
    * Groupwise is just another email system
    * ZCM suffers from a history of bugs – v10 was really v1.0

  8. Eric,
    We all agree that Novell’s marketing hasn’t been the greatest (can you say “slight understatement”?!); hopefully that will change with Attachmate. All indications are that it will.

    It’s been one of the hardest things to get across for us as a partner: that Novell is more than the old NetWare, that they have modern, relevant solutions that run natively in Microsoft/AD. Those customers that have been open-minded enough to listen and try have been very surprised and impressed (ZENworks is a perfect example of this!). Too many customers, however, have drunk the blue Kool-Aid and now have a purely blue-tinted view of IT. If it ain’t stamped with the Microsoft logo, it couldn’t possibly be good!

    And I agree with you – OES and GroupWise are rock-solid!

  9. Ugh. Don’t even get me started on that!

  10. I agree, Wayne! We’ve seen a lot of that as well – CIO’s or IT Directors that have a “management” background instead of a technological one. Blows my mind what some of these guys put their staff through – and what it costs their organisations! – just because “they want Outlook” on their desktops! Sigh.

  11. Matt,

    Most of the organisations I mention in the article don’t have 11 staff to handle these migrations. Most of them have to make do with 2-4. I also want to clarify that I’m not “suggesting” these timelines – they’ve been reported to me by these customers. I’m not making this up!

    Yes, ZCM 10 was buggy, but by 10.3 was stable and we had great success with it. Now at 11.2, it is very stable and customers are very happy.

    I’m glad your migration went well, and that you saved your job. I also appreciate the candid comments about your experiences with Windows vs. Novell.


  12. Jacques,

    I’m no MS fan. If I was in charge of our migration I would’ve explored some sort of hybrid system, using MS to serve up directory services and OES or Linux to serve up files.

    I would’ve stuck with ZCM for at least another year, and really put v11 through its paces.

    We where lucky to have 11 people to help out… 4 are network admins, one is a supervisor, and one was a temp we brought in. Everyone rolled up their sleeves to get this done – all while doing “emergency projects” and people still got to take vacation and sick leave during the process – effectively I’d say we had about 8.5 guys working on this at any given time.

    When all was said and done our Zenworks replacement cost us over $100K to get into for the first year, which cost us more than our OES+ZCM+Groupwise yearly cost. We also had a HUGE learning curve in learning a new desktop management tool along with all the “new stuff” that we stepped into with windows.

    In the end, we don’t have fewer problems… just different problems.

    Are we better off? I sure don’t see it.

  13. Did anyone at any point do an estimate of whether any money had been saved at all? Novell’s licensing is hardly expensive compared with its major competitor; when you throw in staff and user education and training… your management have been duped!

  14. Have you considered FileWay from Everywhere Networks ? Not only it’s a replacement for Netstorage but it also integrates with OWA 2003, 2007, 2010 and 2013 to provide remote file access.


  1. […] keep making the decision to migrate away from GroupWise to Exchange. As evidenced by comments in this discussion, the decision is rarely technical. Some exec wants his Outlook, or someone gets promised all sorts […]

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