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Chapter Five
The PC-Based LAN Revolution Begins

Early Technical Goals for NetWare

In 1984, the broad strokes of NetWare were in place, but a lot of soldiering still remained to make those strokes reality. It was time to provide more than hard disk and print sharing services. It was time to bring reliability—system fault tolerance (SFT) reliability—into the picture.

And there was new hardware to arrange into the NetWare picture. 1984 was the year IBM’s 80286-based PCAT (PC Advanced Technology) and Apple’s Macintosh were introduced.

The Opportunity, and Challenge, of the PCAT

When the machines were first introduced, SuperSet, Craig, and others at Novell dreamed of harnessing PCAT's enhanced computing power for file servers. The 286 (as the 80286 was called) could address 16MB of RAM where its PC/PCXT predecessor, the 8088, could only address 1MB. But the big difference was running in “protected mode”. This was not just bigger and faster, it was a new way of running a CPU chip. There were new commands available designed specifically for multi-tasking, which file servers do a lot of. NetWare/286 products realized the dream of utilizing all this breakthrough possibility.

Using a 286 as a 286 was called native mode, also called protected mode—“protected” because the RAM was protected during multi-tasking from having different tasks use the same RAM. MS-DOS used the 286’s emulation or “real” mode—real mode because the CPU’s addressing referred to real memory locations rather than the virtual memory locations that were used in the aforementioned protected mode. OS/2, IBM/Microsoft’s operating system that would use any Intel CPU in protected mode, was announced at the PCAT’s introduction but suffered one of the worst cases of sliding delivery in personal computer history. It was years away from finally appearing and the first PC-compatible OS to fully embrace protected mode would be Windows 95, which came nearly a decade later.

Craig, Novell’s Vice President of Marketing, explained in a Fall 1985 LAN Times article by Michael Durr, titled “Advanced NetWare/ 286 Makes Most of IBM AT”.

“No one had released a product in conjunction with DOS that took advantage of the protected mode of the AT. We wanted to be able to take advantage of the additional addressable memory and the performance and features it would provide for a network server.”

And take advantage of them it does. Advanced NetWare/286 can address all the RAM you can stuff in an AT and, by using some of the AT clones that have more slots, you can push it up to its limit of 16MB. It can also handle up to 2GB [gigabytes; one GB = 1 billion bytes] of mass storage as well as perform multitasking operations. If that’s not enough, this extra memory, power and storage allows a network running Advanced NetWare/286 to handle up to 128 users per server, five printers per server and two intelligent disk coprocessors (which allow you to use up to 32 hard disks).

“Advanced NetWare/286 takes full advantage of the extended features of the 80286,” says Burton. “What that buys you is more users, more disk space, and better performance.”

Novell may have considered its jewels to be its software, but there was still hardware required to make those jewels shine. NetWare 286 was one of the first products to use a 286 CPU as a 286 rather than just as a faster 8088 CPU the way MS-DOS did.

Because so few applications used the protected mode of the 286 in those early years, there was little drive to standardize those parts of the hardware design or the BIOS design that dealt with protected mode. (BIOS is the software that operates between the CPU and the OS.) And once again, a standard was lacking. Genuine IBM PCATs and PCAT clones acted quite differently from each other when used as NetWare 286 file servers. This presented Novell with a challenge: Would the company support only genuine IBM PCATs as 286 file servers or would they support others as well?

Craig wrestled with this problem in the Fall 1985 LAN Times as well, again in an article by Durr, this one called “Novell Announces Family of Expandable Server Products”.

“Unlike Advanced NetWare/86, it has not been easy to support third-party drives under Advanced NetWare/286 and SFT NetWare/286, both of which run in the 80286’s protected mode.” Burton was quick to point out this is not an indication that Novell is beginning to reverse its field and close its architecture to third-party products.

“Closing the door is ugly and we’re not doing that,” he says. “But when you move into the protected mode on the 80286, writing multitasking, fault-tolerant drivers is not simple.

“The only reason we don’t currently support other drives with the NetWare/286 systems is because of the complexity. We plan to break out the code for companies that want to fit in that protected mode environment so they can write their own drivers.

“We don’t want to be in the position of making people choose between IBM and us. We want to be able to say that we offer an excellent family of servers, but whatever hardware you choose, Novell offers a better solution to your networking needs.”

Craig felt that similar explanations needed to be made for the new NS286B file server.

The NS286B file server and its accompanying Advanced NetWare/286 operating system were proprietary (i.e., Novell-owned and ‑marketed) products that were less accessible to third-party companies. In these products openness was sacrificed in order to achieve higher performance. Yet Novell remained committed to the idea of open systems. If NetWare was to proliferate and the LAN industry flourish, Novell had to let other companies play in its backyard. The corporate jujitsu had to continue. From 1985 forward, Novell began to distinguish the terms “open system” and “proprietary system” as compatible, not mutually exclusive, terms. Although NetWare was proprietary, it remained an open system accessible to third parties.

Novell announced support for other servers by starting a certification program. One of the first non-IBM computers certified was Compaq. Even at this embryonic stage Compaq could see a bright future for networks and they wanted to be involved. This testing and support of 286 products started a dramatic increase in the size of Novell’s testing and support divisions.

Novell marketing also supported an alternative plan. They OEMed PCAT clones from Samsung and Micro V in Korea to make sure that clone alternatives to the IBM PCAT were available and, of course, to pick up a bit more of the revenue stream that went into building a network. These clones became the 286A and 286B Novell file servers.

They were also sold as the basis of complete Novell LAN systems and LAN systems marketed by other companies. New disk subsystems, add-on drives, gateways, and the NetWare Disk Coprocessor Board (DCB) rounded out the new line of hardware offerings.

There was one other effect: The 286 chip was an Intel product that finally passed the 68000 in performance, so the 68B file server could at last be put to rest.

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