Striking the right balance of skills

By Mark Leon, InfoWorld |  Career

Although it would be nice to find people with both solid NetWare and NT skills,
Elwood does not expect to. For him, it's more important to find good talent than to
look for a jack-of-all-trades, especially when it comes to maintaining business-
critical systems.

"We are stretched very thin," Elwood says. "We have to be up 24-7. If we are down
for an hour on Monday morning, we lose a million bucks. We need the best people we can

Microsoft is trying to convince Elwood to convert his entire network to NT, he
says, but a more homogeneous world would not ease his staffing requirements.

"The cost of such a conversion would be huge," Elwood says, "and NT is not
necessarily better or easier to manage."

To standardize or to outsource?

There are places, however, where IT does choose to standardize NOS environments
when it can. For example, cross-platform skills are not a high priority for those
running the computer networks of the Tucson Unified School District, in Arizona.

"We are driven by Microsoft," says Liz Whitaker, director of technology and
telecommunications services at the school district. "So when we hire technical support
staff, we look for MCSEs. For programmers, we place a high priority on people who know
SQL Server."

Whitaker still runs some NetWare on servers at the elementary schools, whereas the
middle schools have the newer Windows NT systems. Plans are under way to phase out the
Novell servers altogether and replace them with NT systems.

Whitaker doesn't worry about maintaining separate staffs to support the legacy
NetWare systems. With an existing staff of NetWare savvy technicians, it's a safe bet
that the Novell equipment will disappear before the expertise does.

But as do most shops, the school district also runs some Unix. The district uses
Solaris to run its Nortel Passport network, an integrated voice and data switching
system. But Whitaker solved that potential headache by outsourcing the system and
everything connected to it to telecommunications provider Williams Communications.

"They also take care of all our Unix service and support," Whitaker says.

Changing landscape

None of this means that NOS interoperability issues have vanished. Vendors such as
Houston-based BindView still turn a profit selling cross-platform NOS management tools.
But interoperability concerns are not what they were several years ago.

"Five years ago it was really tricky to integrate NetWare with an IP-based system,"
says Eric Pulaski, chairman and CTO at BindView. "You needed special skills and the
stars had to line up just right. Now that stuff is all right out of the box."

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