Not long after you read this, IBM should release the new server version of its venerable OS/2 operating system. As you've probably heard by now, the new product is going to be called Warp Server, and it's going to be aimed squarely at organizations that are currently using (or might otherwise use) Windows NT Server. For once, IBM seems to have set its sights carefully, which means that Windows NT users are going to see a lot that's familiar in Warp Server, and they'll probably find a lot that they like.
Of course, that's exactly what IBM has in mind. Big Blue wants NT customers to like Warp Server so much that they'll consider buying it for those tasks where NT won't work or where Warp Server might make more sense. It's not clear whether current users of NT Server will make a wholesale switch to Warp Server, but there's a good chance that you could find yourself with a network that's more heterogeneous than it once was and that you could be dealing with OS/2 as well as NT.
Taking Direct Aim
One way that IBM plans to make you love having Warp Server on your network is to make it just like NT in those areas that count. By all indications, the company has done its homework, too. Warp Server has many of the features that NT users are used to, plus it keeps the parts of OS/2 that add strength to that operating system.
A couple of the features that are coming with Warp Server used to be pretty much exclusive to Windows NT Server. For example, Warp's previously awful installation routines have been fixed, the auto-detection routines work, and installations with Warp Server are just about as easy as they are with NT Server.
Likewise, Warp Server includes a Novell NetWare gateway so that users of Warp Server can have file and print services from NetWare. Also, like NT Server, Warp Server supports Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP), which is an advanced way of sharing TCP/IP addresses. More importantly, though, Warp Server is configured to "talk" to Microsoft networking assets. Thus, when Warp Server looks over the network for other assets, its browser can find NT Server machines, as well as LAN Manager, Windows for Workgroups (WFW), and Windows 95 machines.
Otherwise, Warp Server is a lot like its predecessor, IBM LAN Server. Like NT Server, Warp's native language is NetBIOS, so it will interact well with Microsoft networking, if not actually seamlessly. Although Warp Server can "see" NT assets on the network, NT can't necessarily see Warp Server because NT's browser doesn't pick it up. However, if you enter the domain and server names explicitly, NT can see and work with it just fine.
Why Use Warp Server?
So, why might a company use Warp Server when it has NT Server? That's a good question, and the answer usually boils down to vertical applications and IBM mainframes. The facts are that there are a lot of OS/2 vertical applications, and a lot of them are designed to work in a client/server environment. Many of them also expect to find their data on IBM databases residing on IBM mainframe computers.
Although there's no shortage of ways to access mainframes from NT Server, IBM has worked hard to create a way of getting from OS/2 machines, especially from Warp Server, to its mainframes. If you need an application server that can get to data on your ES/9000, you'll probably have better luck with OS/2 than with NT.
Likewise, because OS/2 has been around longer and especially because it has the blessing of IBM, a number of companies started developing industry-specific software for OS/2. This effort went further when Microsoft was involved in developing OS/2--companies decided that with the two big operating-system developers cooperating on one solution, OS/2 had to be the safest approach. That changed, but by the time it did, a lot of development decisions were already under way. A lot of OS/2-based vertical applications have since appeared.
Although it's likely that these applications may eventually appear in versions for NT, right now they're aimed at OS/2. If you want to use them, adding an OS/2 application server to your network is your best option.
Peaceful Coexistence with OS/2
Fortunately, with the advent of Warp Server, living with OS/2 on your network can be fairly painless. As far as most NT applications are concerned, it's just another NT file server. In fact, in its new version, Warp Server can share domain-controller tasks with NT Server.
There are a few glitches, of course. For example, the management tools for one don't work with the other. This is less of a problem than it might be with some operating systems because neither one requires the level of hands-on management that a UNIX system might require. However, it's still an inconvenience. Fortunately, most of the management tools for either product will run from a workstation, so you don't have to live in the server room. You must, however, have workstations running the appropriate operating system.
Backups can be an issue because the same backup tools might not work with both systems. Warp Server has a potential solution: A clever package called Personally Safe n' Sound is designed to back up any drive that OS/2 knows about, including drives belonging to NT Server platforms. In addition, IBM says that its backup solution will back up Warp Server to other network resources, including other network drives, by the time the product is released. This means that you can add Warp Server to your network, set up the backup software, and then continue to handle backups just as you did before.
OK, so it's a nice product. Does that mean you're going to be able to just drop an OS/2 Warp Server platform onto your existing network and never notice the change? Well, no. There are differences.
The most obvious difference is that OS/2 has a user interface that is significantly different from NT's. Although there will be fewer differences when the new NT shell is released--perhaps within the next couple of months--the fact is that IBM's object-oriented Workplace Shell is a lot different from what you're used to with NT. Nearly everything works by dragging, dropping, clicking the right-hand mouse button, and making entries into setting objects that look like books--none of which is hard, but all of which requires learning. If you're planning to add Warp Server to your network, plan to take some extra time to train your server operator.
The next biggest difference is that OS/2 isn't NT when you get down to the network hardware level. In other words, the drivers for network interface cards are different, the process of installing peripherals is different, and products that work with NT Server may not work the same way with Warp Server.
Still, the two network operating systems work together surprisingly well. If you're faced with the prospect of working with Warp Server, you might have to do some learning, but it won't be that hard. Warp Server might even offer your business some capabilities that it wouldn't get any other way. After all, the two operating systems speak the same language, they share the same roots, and they're obviously related. Think of them as members of a family that hasn't had a reunion for a while.
Shutdown and Restart
This is my last column for Windows NT Magazine. As sometimes happens in publishing, events have come to take me away from this assignment, while offering me some new and exciting challenges. I'll still be around from time to time, so you can look for my byline here--just not in this column.
It's been exciting being a part of this magazine as it was born. It's a form of excitement that I never tire of. Good luck to Mark and Jane and all the other staffers at Windows NT Magazine. It's been great being a columnist here.
\[Editor's Note: Our thanks to Wayne Rash for his insightful and interesting columns. We will miss them.\]
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