New Novell President Says Bring on the Open-Source Challenges

In his first public appearance since Novell pushed him into its top spot, Ron Hovsepian says vendors have got to stop relying on customers to be their own open-source systems integrators.

NEWTON, Mass.—Ron Hovsepian began his first day as Novells newest president and chief operating officer with a humble plea to enterprises looking to push open source into the data center: "Challenge us as a company to help you with your business," he said during his Wednesday keynote here at the Open Source Business Conference.

The poignancy underlying his words comes from stockholders growing impatience with Novells poor financial performance.

Blum Capital Partners LP, with support from other stockholders, has called on Novell to reduce costs, divest itself of non-core businesses; become a leader in Linux and identity management through joint ventures and selective acquisitions; and optimize its capital structure to maximize shareholder value by buying back stock.

Jack Messman—former president and still the CEO and chairman of the board—resisted these moves even as Novells profits dropped. Hovsepian, on the other hand, sounded gung-ho with regards to striving for Linux leadership.

"Theres a wait-and-see attitude out there, [with regards to embracing open source in the data center], and we have to address that," he said.

To do that, marketing and packaging of the operating system has got to get better, Hovsepian said, so customers dont have to work so hard to shift to open source.

"Now, the customer has to be the systems integrator," he said. "The customer has to put all the pieces together and has responsibility to articulate the value back to their business. Were asking customers to do too much work there."

Novell, along with the rest of the industry, must do a better job of packaging open-source software, along with giving customers a better set of tools to make open source deliver value in the enterprise, he said.

The plethora of business models for open source is another thing thats slowing down open-source adoption, he said.

"Working through what are the business models that exist, along with how will they evolve, and whats the model that translates to value for the customer and still translates to profit for the [vendors]: That will slow down adoption until customers feel comfortable we know what were doing as an industry," he said.

Getting innovation out of the community and into the data center is also gumming up the spread of open source, he said. While communities exist that facilitate code and best practices sharing, distribution is in the dark ages, he said.

"Its making that handshake between that customer and that innovator and making that transaction simple and fast for that marketplace" thats the next challenge, he said.

What else are customers looking for? A humble attitude goes a long way, Hovsepian said.

"Most every customers been very clear with us: Its about driving the open-source platforms into their environment where it should be applied," he said. "Dont try to force things that [dont apply]. Customers do need to think about and look at really whats the vision and what theyre going to get done around applications, core architectures—what architectures youre going to deliver in your business that lets your end users [do a piece of computing] that lets them solve particular problems."

Hovsepian exemplified the necessity to stay humble with a recent conversation with Bear Stearns, which is a customer of Novells.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about Novells position in the marketplace.

"I asked them to share why they picked our Linux distribution and our team over another," he said. "What was really fascinating was their thought process.

"They said it was simple: Your technical packaging was better. The second part they shared was the ecosystem. They said Youve got 24x7 support, I know youve got people around the globe who can help. … What was fascinating was the third point. They highlighted, The one thing you didnt do was come in here and tell me "Linux solves everything." What you did was listen to me and focus on [the fact that] I have a heterogeneous environment, and I have to deal with that every day. Your background as a company allowed you to [understand] that. "

But beyond a humble attitude, open source needs applications to run on. While Novell has doggedly pushed to get applications running on SUSE Linux—Novell increased the number of applications running on SUSE Linux from 42 to over 1,000 since acquiring it—this is still an area the industry must focus on, he said.

"These are the things we need to do as an overall industry: to continue this evolution, this march," he said.

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