Is It Just a Flesh Wound?

CNEs on shaky ground

International Data Corp.Soft-quoted analyst, Dan Kusnetzky, likes to invoke the Dilbert analogy when discussing Novell these days. He figures that if Dilbert ran the show, Novell might be in better shape.

The venerable companys flagship product, NetWare, remains highly regarded by the Dilbert types out there—the in-the-trenches network experts. However, good technology is no longer enough to win the hearts of the Dilberts bosses, who make decisions based on a variety of factors such as whats being recommended, whos selling it and what the over-arching business goal should be.

While NetWare 5.1 and the forthcoming NetWare 6 are great products, Novell has failed to ward off the bundling and PR efforts of Microsoft and the relentless march of open source.

"So heres Novell," says Kusnetzky. "Theyre being outmarketed by Microsoft. Theyre being outshipped by both Microsoft and Linux. Theyre not bringing in as much operating system revenue as the Unix people or Microsoft. The perception is Novell is a dying platform and one should get off the boat quickly. But that just isnt true." Novells recent $240 million stock deal to acquire Cambridge Technology Partners is an attempt to stanch NetWares erosion.

Yes, Novell lost network operating system market share every year of the past five, dropping from 30 percent in 1996 to about 17 percent in 2000, according to IDC.

But the company—a victim of server consolidation—still sold upward of a million units each year. That means theres plenty of opportunity for Certified Novell Engineers (CNE) and the Novell partners that employ them.

Novell, and those that offer CNE training, say the degree is more comprehensive than its Microsoft counterpart, but no longer able to make its owner highly marketable.

"The Novell track requires certification in service and support, which is hardware-oriented and includes troubleshooting hardware systems—skills that, regardless of the platform thats running, are quickly needed and basically required, but are not taught in the Microsoft track," says Perry Turnbull, owner and manager of Information Technology Education Center.

Nevertheless, he says the school finds that 75 percent of its students want only Microsoft diplomas.

Lanop, another training center that offers the CNE certification, has this to say: "Although Bill Gates would like us to think otherwise, Novell is still at the core of virtually every major enterprise network in existence. ... Until Microsoft comes up with an operating system that does not hang for mysterious reasons, the professional network managers will not be considering any changes to their core network."

That means becoming a Certified Novell Engineer is still a good idea for those considering a career in IT.

An informal [email protected] Partner survey found that CNEs earn between $40,000 and $100,000 annually, and are billed out at $50 per hour to $110 per hour.

Novell—a company that has shown the ability to roll with the punches—just might convince Dilberts boss that its "One Net World" vision makes sense and that its products are cutting edge. Just realize that the Novell scroll is one of several certifications needed to effectively reign over todays networking jambalaya.