The Jury Is Out

Novell has pleaded its case for Net Services Software, but skeptical partners have reasonable doubts about the initiative.

Maybe Dr. Eric Schmidt should have been a lawyer. Schmidt, Novells Chairman and CEO, certainly knows how to build technology. But he hasnt made a compelling case for Novells partners and potential customers to embrace that technology.

Despite falling revenue and market share, Schmidt believes that NetWare will be a keystone in Novells strategy to provide Net Services going forward. After attending last months Brainshare conference—the firms annual shindig for developers, partners and customers—one can see that the venerable network operating system is being repositioned to provide file, print and a whole lot more in the Internet age. A plethora of new Net services is being designed and delivered to run on NetWare—as well as on other platforms.

However, Novell sent out mixed messages during the conference. Most of the buzz involved Novells pending acquisition of Cambridge Technology Partners (CTP). Under terms of the deal, Schmidt will remain chairman and CTPs Jack Messman will oversee Novells day-to-day operations as CEO. CTPs consultants will be trained to sell, service and support Novells complete software line.

A Split Decision During Brainshare, Novell touted NetWare as the ideal platform for deploying a suite of services revolving around identity management, application and content provisioning, authentication, and storage. But the company knows it cant bet the farm on NetWare, because the old cash cow is running out of milk. Thats why Novell is taking a platform-neutral stance for running many of its Net Services, which include:

> networking (NetWare, clustering, printing, etc.);

> management (ZENworks and ManageWise);

> security (iChain, Novell Certificate Server, etc.);

> portals, groupware and messaging (GroupWise, NIMS);

> storage and backup (iFolder, etc.);

> directory services (NDS, DirXML, etc.);

> Web acceleration (Volera Caching Server);

> hosted services (digitalme, OnDemand, DeFrame); and

> professional services (Novell consulting, CTP).

Thats a very long list, and many of the services generate only a tiny fraction of Novells overall revenue. For instance, sales at Volera, the caching spin-off, represented less than 1 percent of Novells revenue in 2000, according to the company.

Still, several of these Net Services show great promise. If the list seems long, in practice, a number of them are used—and reused—frequently.

Make no mistake, Novell sees the directory at the center of the Net Services universe. Take, for example, a Web-based portal application that brings access to corporate applications, news and information in one place. Novell has built such an application internally and calls it i-Login.Net. Its useful to take a closer look at the application because it illustrates how Novell envisions many of its own Net Services components working together.

The application has ambitious goals. Users have access to the application from anywhere in the world, securely. A number of different enterprise data sources, as well as other, non-Web applications, have to be made available through the portal. Access to the portals services need to be enabled or disabled quickly. Sounds simple, but it gets incredibly complex.

Heres how it works (each Net Services component is indicated in red): The iChain security and management infrastructure provides secure login to the system for the Web user from the Internet. This infrastructure consists of a reverse proxy server (the Volera Excelerator platform), which maintains an SSL connection with the client. This proxy server is communicating with the iChain Authorization Server, which accesses eDirectory for user authentication and access control parameters. Once access is granted, the Volera proxy server establishes communication with the server running Novell Portal Services. The proxy server, off-loading the encryption tasks from the content Web server, maintains the SSL connection with the client device.

The portal server is responsible for information aggregation from many sources. It establishes a number of connections to different data stores. One connection is via XML to the users GroupWise message store. How did the portal server know which users messages to open? You guessed it—eDirectory.

The portal server also might need to make a non-Web application available to this particular user via http. So, another connection is made, this time to a server running OnDemand and DeFrame services. Again, eDirectory is consulted to see if appropriate access rights to this resource exist for the user. If everything checks out, an http data stream is sent back to the portal server from a server running Windows Terminal Services. The portal integrates this data source and presents it to the proxy server, which in turn ships it off to the user. This "application" is now available to the user at any location. Novell uses the example of a Vantive customer relationship management system that is employed in this manner.

How was the user set up in the first place? Simple. When first input into the PeopleSoft HR system, a DirXML process noticed that the HR database had been updated, and promptly (say, 15 minutes or so) extracted selected pieces of information from the HR database and inserted them into eDirectory. At the same time, another DirXML process updated the Lucent Technologies phone switch with the users name and phone number.

Whats the return on investment? With 40 percent of its workforce not in the office, Novell claims a 90 percent reduction in yearly WAN charges—from $3 million down to a far more manageable $350,000.

Big Ambitions Nearly all of the Net Services are enterprise in nature, which means many of Novells traditional partners, including most small VARs, arent prepared to push these services. Thats where big integrators like CTP come in. CTPs Messman says global companies like to work with big vendors. Novell hopes to become exactly that with CTP on its arm.

Still, Novells partnering strategy will be tricky. Novell is outsourcing at least a part of its channel management activities to Rainmaker Systems. And Novell is contacting current corporate systems integrators, like Deloitte & Touche, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers, to explain the companys evolving sales strategy. These conversations wont be easy. CTP competes with many of Novells large partners in the ERP and CRM space.

Neil MacDonald, an analyst at Gartner Group, thinks Novell will generate more revenue from consulting services than from products by fiscal 2002. That will require a major cultural shift within Novell, a product-driven company where less than 10 percent of revenue currently comes from such services.

Other market watchers question the CTP acquisition. "They need to gain market share," says Jamie Lewis, president of The Burton Group. "One way would be to buy market share from others. Instead, they bought a depressed consulting firm in the midst of a depressed economy."

Like many observers, Lewis wonders if Messmans arrival sets the stage for Schmidts departure. Schmidt led Novell to a brief rebound in 1999 but has struggled to maintain profits in recent quarters. Schmidt says hell remain actively involved at Novell, but in late March he was named chairman of Google, a Web portal. A Novell spokesman says Schmidts role at Google wont interfere with his responsibilities at Novell.

Reasonable Doubts Novell has been talking up the Net Services vision for well over a year. Early results show that Net Services revenue hasnt grown fast enough to offset declining NetWare sales. Its a confusing time for everybody involved— partners and customers included.

"Its the same old story," says The Burton Groups Lewis. "The challenge they have is the same one that they had last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. Their window of opportunity has shrunk."

Lewis should know. In the early 1990s, he accurately predicted that the server landscape would shift from file-and-print services to application services. Novell ultimately missed the shift and never cashed in on the boom for database servers, Web servers and e-commerce servers.

"Theyre late to market on a number of fronts," adds Earl Perkins, an analyst at Meta Group. "The Volera spin-off is late; there are other well-established players in the [caching] market already." Volera is Novells caching spin-off.

Perkins says Novell faces the same problem with its eDirectory product, where entrenched competitors include the iPlanet Directory Server (from the Sun/AOL/Netscape alliance) and IBMs SecureWay directory. And Microsoft hasnt begun to really market its competing (though quite immature) offering, known as Active Directory.

Extenuating Circumstances One of the oldest adages in the computer business is that applications sell hardware—and by inference, applications sell operating systems. A continuing sore point for Novell is a lack of support from independent software developers. The situation is hardly surprising, because NetWare was never designed to be an application server.

So-called NetWare Loadable Modules (NLM) were supposed to bolster application support in the mid-1990s, but NLMs are tricky to develop. "Yeah, its still a pain to write NLMs, but once you get them working correctly, theyre very stable," says Tim Heywood, a long-time developer.

Even Nikko Valimaki, Novells VP of Net Directory Services Engineering, admits that "NetWare by itself is not an application development platform."

Novell has attempted to correct this Achilles heel over the years, each time with little success. Two 1993 acquisitions, Sirius Corp. and Software Transformation Inc., paved the way for Novells AppWare development tools, which the company abandoned in the mid-1990s. And SuperNOS, a project to merge NetWare and UnixWare, was scrapped in 1996.

Novell tried again in 1998 with a Java Virtual Machine running as an entry point into NetWare internals, but the JVM failed to win many fans. And joint marketing efforts, like OracleWare and Oracle 8 for NetWare, have gone nowhere. Oracle is barely mentioned in NetWare product literature and documentation these days.

"When I want to run Oracle, I run it on a Sun box," quips a network manager from a large Novell customer site. "I want to use the platform that the software was developed on, not one that it was ported to."

These days, Novell is pushing IBMs WebSphere as the preferred development environment for NetWare. But its too early to say whether that strategy will succeed. "WebSphere may be more important to Novell than to its customers," says Neil MacDonald, an analyst at Gartner Group. "Its the best way for them [Novell] to leverage their development efforts," he says.

Still, the competition has caught up with Novell, in the form of Linux, Windows and Internet storage appliances, according to MacDonald. "NetWare is losing market share to all of these competitors," he says, adding that he doesnt see the trend reversing itself. However, he thinks that NetWare will still be around in five years.

In the meantime, Novell faces a skeptical audience, as it pleads its case for Net Services.