GroupWise on Linux beats out Exchange at university

In this story, Golden Gate University's IT team explains why Exchange wasn't chosen for an e-mail/collaboration software update is pursuing an aggressive new Linux and OS strategy

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SAN FRANCISCO -- For Golden Gate University, patience and sticking with a legacy application may end up paying dividends. An e-mail/collaboration package and related products long used by the university have matured to a point of being positioned for a glove-like fit with the university's aggressive new Linux and open source strategy.

Five years ago, Novell GroupWise was usually ranked third in the collaboration market, behind the Microsoft Exchange/Outlook combination and IBM's pairing of Lotus Domino and Notes. When Anthony Hill joined Golden Gate University as chief technology officer in 2001, GroupWise was firmly in place at the school, which serves about 5,000 students from seven teaching sites on the West coast.

"It was supporting close to 1,000 users, so switching e-mail packages wouldn't have been easy. Also, there was no compelling business reason to get off it," said Hill, who was charged with overhauling the university's overly heterogeneous computing infrastructure. Under Hill, the IT team has worked to standardize on Microsoft Windows and Red Hat Linux as its core operating system platforms.

Right now, Golden Gate University is making plans not only to move GroupWise from Novell's NetWare network operating system over to Linux but also to develop a new approach to important applications. Hill's plan is to combine GroupWise, clustered servers and Novell's eDirectory repository.

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The school upgraded from GroupWise 5.5 to version 6.5 earlier this year, keeping it paired with NetWare in the short term. But, in the next months, Golden Gate will move to GroupWise 7.0 running on Novell's SuSE Linux distribution.

The move to SuSE Linux by itself is a change in philosophy for Golden Gate, one made possible by developments in the Novell product lines. Karl Ehr, IT operations manager for Golden Gate, said that the university's goal has been to standardize on fewer platforms, including a single Linux distribution -- Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4.0. When it was time to upgrade to GroupWise 6.5, Golden Gate considered Novell's promised support for GroupWise on Red Hat, but Ehr's team had doubts about Novell's commitment. The school considered using SuSE at that time but felt the distribution's clustering capabilities were immature. So, Golden Gate stuck with NetWare for the short term.

"It comes down to supportability. Twelve months have gone by since the clustering tool was announced, and the product is much more stable," said Ehr.

Ehr has looked at Exchange on Windows as an alternative to GroupWise on Linux, but GroupWise proved more appealing because of its back-end stability. "The issue with Microsoft will still be with individual servers and how to make sure your node and your server will be highly available," he said. "If you want to take a server out of the cluster, can you be sure that you will be maintaining your uptime?" Ehr wants to know.

Hill added that another key reason for Golden Gate's commitment to GroupWise is that the school hasn't experienced any of the security problems associated with Exchange and Outlook. Golden Gate is "standardized around Linux and Novell's products, and GroupWise plays very well in that infrastructure," he said.

That infrastructure includes eDirectory, Novell's implementation of a Light Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) repository. Ehr considers the ability to integrate GroupWise with eDirectory an ace up Novell's sleeve. "If you are running a large business, and network management and directory services matter to you, the choice of eDirectory over [Microsoft] Active Directory or any other product is easy. [EDirectory] can easily scale to tens of thousands of users,'' Ehr said. That type of scalability, when combined with the university's plans to implement Novell Identity Manager, will open the door to better integration of processes such as recruitment, application processing, billing and academic computing, he added.

"Clustering GroupWise on top of Linux, integrated with a highly available set of eDirectory servers, present a very rock-solid enterprise messaging platform," Ehr said.

Ehr encourages his peers to consider Novell. "Some IT shops are very reticent to bring in anything with the Novell name associated with it -- either because they are biased toward Microsoft or because they're uncomfortable with Novell's market position," he said. "No matter how much fear someone might have about Novell, I think it's indisputable how far out in front of the competition eDirectory is."

Ehr cites Novell demonstrations of eDirectory with search running against more than one billion objects in the directory. In order to manage an environment that large with Active Directory or another LDAP product, many separate domains would need to be stitched together.

As enterprises begin to use not just e-mail but instant messaging, calendaring and scheduling, Ehr believes IT managers must be clear about what they have at the directory services level.

A small business may be able to get by with an underpowered directory service, Ehr said. But Golden Gate adds alumni and maybe even prospective students to its directory. It needs to be able to handle and integrate multiple sources of identity from different applications. "Our choices around messaging are derived from our choices about directory services, so clearly our value in GroupWise is mostly derived from our choice in eDirectory," he says.

James M. Connolly is a freelance editor based in Norwood, Mass.

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