Novell Needs to Bridge the Gap

Opinion: Project Fossa describes not only where Novell is going, but where the company already is. Is this where the company really wants to be?

At Novell's recent BrainShare conference in Salt Lake City, company executives laid out their vision and strategy under the banner Project Fossa.

What does "fossa" mean? According to Wikipedia, a fossa is either an agile, mongooselike creature from Madagascar, or a term describing a depression or hollow. Based on the search I conducted for the word fossa on Novell's Web site-a search that returned no results-Wikipedia's latter result appears to be the more accurate.

Of course, it's not Novell's intention that its customers and partners interpret the company's strategy as a hollow space. In his keynote address, Novell CTO Jeff Jaffe suggested a spell out for fossa of "Free and Open Source Software plus Agility," and even though the company's Web site hadn't yet caught up by the time I wrote this, Novell executives took pains to point out that Project Fossa describes not only where Novell is going, but where the company already is.

Enterprise IT infrastructures are, in fact, heterogeneous, and companies won't rip and replace their infrastructures in pursuit of homogeneity for its own sake. As a result, there's a need for products that allow different pieces of IT infrastructure to work together, and Novell provides these products. For instance, there's Novell's ZENworks Orchestrator, which aims to smooth the wrinkles between physical and virtual deployments and allow administrators to juggle virtual machines between Xen, VMware and Hyper-V hypervisor hosts.

Enabling agility through manageable heterogeneity sounds great, and it sounded great 10 years ago when Novell was pushing the same concepts for heterogeneous directory integration. And yet, Microsoft's Active Directory managed to be born and become dominant between then and now. I believe that the difference is a result of the way Microsoft attacks the enterprise by aiming for ubiquity.

Take, for instance, the recently announced Linux desktop preload deal between Hewlett-Packard and Novell that should put Novell directly in touch with more users, and I imagine that the paid subscriptions that SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop requires to keep security and other updates flowing will work just fine for enterprises. I believe, however, that this requirement will prove a sticking point for the smaller businesses gearing up to grow into tomorrow's enterprises.

Novell will sell you a Linux desktop with free updates and OpenSUSE, but Novell won't support it, which leaves a strange gap between the enterprise and the rest of the potential market that doesn't exist with Windows.

If the next decade is to be different for Novell, the company must focus not only on bridging the fossa between separate enterprise products but also on bridging the gaps between the enterprise, small and midsize businesses, and consumer spaces-the way that Microsoft does.