Mixed environments

Despite all the attention paid to NeXT-only sites, the reality of a heterogeneous computing world means that most NeXT systems coexist on networks with other computers, according to users as well as research conducted by NeXTWORLD.

Among users surveyed by NeXTWORLD, 62 percent are running their NeXT systems on networks. These networks include an average of 24 NeXT workstations, but more than half of the networks have at least one other brand of machine in the mix.

These NeXT clusters are primarily connected to PCs and other workstations 54 percent are connected to IBM PCs; 53 percent to Sun workstations; 52 percent to Macs; and 50 percent to other UNIX workstations. Most of the NeXTs seem to reside on local-area networks, since only 24 percent are networked to mainframes and 22 percent to minicomputers.

NeXT knows that connectivity is crucial to its success and, along with all the other workstation vendors, it competes for the title of Most Congenial when it comes to networking. Customers report that NeXT's effort has paid off in terms of ease of installation.

"We found [installing NeXTs on a Banyan Vines network] to be pretty easy. We didn't really have any complaints, and usually when you talk to someone about setting up a network, they have a lot," says James House, senior information services manager for the mining group of Morrison Knudsen Corporation. His group has 21 NeXTs connected to roughly 2000 DOS machines via a Banyan Vines network, 15 Macs, a couple of Wang VS machines, some Suns, and an IBM R6000 connected on a TCP/IP network.

His company did encounter some difficulty with passing e-mail documents through an SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) gateway to the Banyan Vines server, but House says that the problems lay with the server not knowing what to do with attached documents at the receiving end.

Vince Jordan, director of software development at Williams Telecommunications, agrees that many of the networking mismatches originate with other systems. "The NeXT machines are the most compliant," he says. His research-and-development division has 60 NeXTs connected to two SPARCstations, and two Auspex SPARC-based file servers over a twisted-pair Ethernet network. The NeXTs also have a T-1 link to another facility a mile away.

But not all connectivity problems have been solved. Connecting NeXTs to wide-area networks cause the most inconvenience, though most problems can be fixed with some jimmying, according to users. The most common difficulty is with e-mail, since most other systems can handle NeXTmail text but lose many of the attachments.

"We are increasingly moving away from [heterogeneous environments]," says Gregory Miller, information systems director at the law firm Marger Johnson McCollom & Stolowitz in Portland, Oregon. His company has 20 NeXTs connected to DOS workstations and a Novell server via PC-NFS, and will be using a SLIP (Serial Line Internet Protocol) connection and Marble Associates' Teleconnect to connect to a wide-area network.

The firm plans to phase out the remainder of its DOS machines this year, but Miller says NeXT still has some issues to face in terms of wide-area networks, particularly in complete support of UUCP (UNIX to UNIX Copy Protocol) and the provision of better system-administration tools.

For example, he explains, NeXT needs to account for other forms of UUCP addressing, namely bang addressing. "[NeXT has] a refusal to recognize that they must play in a generic UNIX world. . . . They shouldn't forget their UNIX roots," says Miller.

Phibro Energy, in Greenwich, Connecticut, is also standardizing on NeXT, with 75 percent or more of the company's users switching to the platform, according to Network Manager Jonathan Fields. But for network file servers, the company will continue using Suns. "The NeXT just isn't ready," says Fields. He also recommends that Ethernet segment sizes be reduced with NeXT networks, since the NeXT has a low tolerance for high traffic volume.

Though most users say that NeXT connectivity is relatively headache-free, NeXT still has work to do, particularly integrating into other UNIX environments and providing better system-administration tools.

by Clair Whitmer