December 08, 2000, 12:37 PM — IF NETWORK MANAGERS got stock options every time they heard the words "seamless
interoperability," they could all retire. Yet for most, NOS interoperability is not the
problem that it might have become, thanks to the widespread adoption of Internet
protocols and, to a lesser extent, the ODBC standard. Instead, the pain of running a
mixed network is in building and keeping the IT staff to support it.
Alan Leinwand, CTO at Digital Island, in San Francisco, says he's no stranger to
the multiple-NOS environment. His company hosts Web sites and Internet applications for
customers who want e-commerce capabilities but don't want to maintain the systems
themselves. Typical customers want custom applications, running on Windows NT, to
connect with a Web server and database on the back end, Leinwand says. Usually these
back-end systems are one of many flavors of Unix, such as Solaris and HP-UX, or
"[But] interoperability is usually not a problem, even in these highly
heterogeneous environments," Leinwand explains.
However, hiring IT staff to support the company's systems is problematic. Leinwand
says an ideal job candidate would have a solid Unix background and good NT credentials,
preferably as a MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer). But he has discovered that
this is almost never the reality in the job market.
Leinwand's solution has been to duplicate personnel, hiring a separate set of
programmers and administrators for each OS that Digital Island supports in-house.
"We maintain separate staffs, one for NT and one for Solaris. We provide regular
cross-training for both of these, but when I hire, I look for someone who is a
specialist in just one area," Leinwand says.
Cross-training is key
Larry Elwood, associate director of production automation at Twentieth Century Fox,
in Los Angeles, also cross-trains his staff to support his multiple NOS environments.
However, Elwood has more to contend with than Unix and NT.
"We are a large NetWare 4 shop," Elwood says. "We need people who are ready to move
to NetWare 5 and who have solid NDS and ZenWorks experience."
Meanwhile, Fox also has seen an explosion in the number of Windows NT servers it
"We went from two NT servers to 60 in the last two years," Elwood says.
Throw some Unix and AS/400 into the mix, and Elwood is presiding over a truly
"Our NetWare, Unix, and NT systems often need to talk to each other or share data
between ERP [enterprise resource planning] systems," Elwood says. "But IP and ODBC
really makes this fairly straightforward."