Novell Saying Little About Post-Attachmate ZENworks Plans

It will be at least a week until Novell customers begin to get a clearer idea of what will happen with their favorite products after Attachmate closes on its acquisition of the company.

Novell's ZENworks PC management suite illustrates the unsettled times in which many Novell customers now find themselves. The company Nov. 11 released the latest version of the software, which offers businesses greater manageability and virtualization capabilities. Then, less than two weeks later, Novell announced that it was being bought by Attachmate.

Now users are beginning to wonder what will happen with their favorite Novell products, and while the ZENworks system management suite is likely headed to Attachmate's NetIQ division, it will be at least a week before any more solid information comes out.

Attachmate acquired Novell on Nov. 22 for $2.2 billion in cash. The company has said it will operate Novell as two divisions: SUSE Linux, and the rest of Novell, which would include ZENworks, eDirectory and other networking products. Attachmate's NetIQ division focuses on network management software.

"You have to expect some integration between NetIQ and Novell," said Jonathan Penn, a vice president for Forrester Research, noting that Attachmate was most likely more interested in Novell's systems management and security business than in the Linux side, which can easily stand alone as its own entity.

Novell officials declined comment, saying only that there may be more information next week.

The new version of Novell's ZENworks PC management suite consolidates several applications under a single administrative console. Previously, each ZENworks component had its own Web interface: Asset Management, Configuration Management, Patch Management, and Endpoint Security Management. ZENworks 11 is expected to be available in January.

Bringing them under one unified interface combined the operations and security goals, said Grant Ho, director of product and solutions marketing at Novell. With ZENworks 11, IT managers can address lower costs and lower risks, with a single tool, he said.

Desktops and laptop now use a single ZENworks agent, and support both Linux desktops and servers as well as Windows-based machines, said Ho. Linux support includes using the SSH protocol to discover Linux machines, remote management using VNC and SSH, full hardware and software inventory with reporting, and content management using YUM, Novell Update, RedHat Network and ZENworks Linux Management, according to Novell.

Handheld mobile devices are still handled by a separate application, called ZENworks Handheld Management, said Ho.

ZENworks 11's endpoint security management is user-identity-sensitive, said Ho, saying "everyone just manages devices." He gave an example of a doctor in a hospital moving from workstation to workstation while making the rounds. The ZENworks suite recognizes the applications the doctor needs, and delivers those applications, regardless of the workstation, he said.

ZENworks is not limited to applications but can also provision users with privileges and individual settings, he said. As users move to different physical devices, these settings automatically follow.

It's not exactly virtual desktop, but is similar "up to a point," since ZENworks is delivering relevant virtual images stored on the server to the endpoint, said Ho.

ZENworks 11 also location-aware, letting IT administrators define specific policies based on the user's physical location, such as requiring a VPN when outside the corporate network, he said. The identity features can also be combined with location, by restricting the user's access to certain applications when outside the company, even while using a VPN, said Ho.

If NetIQ is not the eventual home for ZENworks, perhaps the technology is headed over to Microsoft. Along with the Attachmate deal, Novell also concurrently sold "certain intellectual property assets" - 882 patents, according to Form 8-K filed with the Securities Exchange Commission - to Microsoft for $450 million in cash through CPTN Holdings, a consortium of technology companies.

While Microsoft declined to discuss which intellectual property assets they are purchasing, there is a lot of speculation the patents are related to WordPerfect and Linux. Matt Eastwood, an IDC analyst, speculated that Microsoft is after Novell's Platespin data center management and virtualization technology.

Platespin can be useful in building out a private infrastructure-as-a-service cloud computing platform, a space Microsoft is interested in. ZENworks has virtualization capabilities that would fit in that scheme, especially since it supports multiple hypervisors and provides integration with Hyper-V.