Brainshare Highlights Novells New Direction

eLABorations: Company announces ZENworks Synergy, new Workspace plus enhancements to eDirectory.

Novell gave current NetWare users some reasons to hang on to their system and offered potential customers cause to give its technology products a second look during the annual Brainshare user conference held March 17-22 in Salt Lake City.

At the lead keynote on March 17, Chris Stone, Novells vice chairman, office of the CEO, unveiled a stable of new offerings designed to bolster the idea that Novell wants to be in the "solutions" business. Stone, back at Novell for only two weeks following a two-year absence, was standing in for President and CEO Jack Messman, who was hospitalized the previous week.

Stone announced ZENworks Synergy, to be available in May; and Novell Workspace, currently in closed beta and expected to be available in the third quarter. Packaged identity management systems (code-named Mercury) that complement currently available custom provisioning "solutions" for employees, students and partners are slated to be shipped over the next 18 months. In addition, Stone announced enhancements to eDirectory in Version 8.7, a building block for secure identity management and provisioning, and said Novell and BEA Systems have signed an agreement to build application services.

After a year of leadership under Messman, formerly the president and CEO of Cambridge Technology Partners (which is now the eServices division of Novell), spokesperson after spokesperson made it clear that Novell wants to be a solutions, not a product, company.

If this message seemed abstract or contradictory, it didnt appear to faze the 5,500 or so people attending the show. Nor should it necessarily, because at the end of the day, Novells "software + service = solution" equation relies on technology that the company just cant get away from—nor should it try to.

Scrapping the client

In three days of briefings, stalking the (always somewhat small) exhibit floor and attending technology sessions (always very plentiful) it became clear that Novell is moving away from its proprietary client and classic client/server architecture to a standards-based, albeit eDirectory-centric, future.

This is good news for current IT managers, especially if they have been tormented by the Novell client for Windows and the responsibility for maintaining both IP and IPX traffic on their networks. In the coming year, it looks like the ZENworks family of products, from desktop and server management to the new Synergy, will lose their reliance on the Novell client, as well as the requirement that it be installed on target devices.

Based on what I saw (and will review over the next several months as products become available), Novell should be back on the radar screen for enterprise IT. For example, the next version of ZENworks for Servers, Version 3.0, will be able to deliver both content and OS patches to the broadest range of platforms eWEEK Labs has yet seen, including NetWare (of course), Windows NT/2000, Solaris and Linux.

According to Stone, ZENworks for Desktops already delivers more applications to individual desktops than Microsofts Systems Management Server. True or no, ZENworks for Desktops is gaining the ability, through Novells acquisition of Callisto Software, to distribute applications and content to laptops and handhelds, a capability not normally found in wire-line-dependent distribution tools such as Intels LANdesk. Microsoft is expected to add this ability to SMS 3.0.

ZENworks Synergy (a combination of Portal Services, OnDemand and ZENworks for Desktops, along with a special sauce of files, apps, calendaring and other functions) is Novells way of enhancing the user experience, constrained only by the device platform and customized to take into account the connected bandwidth, inside or outside the firewall and without the Novell client. In the first release, ZS will work better with the Novell client in place, but the road map shows any need for the client going out the window in future editions.

The product manager showed me a mockup of the thing and told me employees are "using Synergy today at Novell." I made him show me: At a PC in the media working room, he logged on to the Novell internal Synergy site and took me on a pretty amazing tour. This was not dummy data (I saw real phone bills with real numbers of minutes used for people that I know work for this guy.) I saw his real e-mail and appointments. Everything worked as described, on a machine that had not been prepped in any way for the demo.

IT managers should check

Senior Analyst Cameron Sturdevant can be contacted at [email protected]