Novell Drives Home Linux

Reorganizes engineering around multiplatform plan.

Novell Inc. is breaking from tradition and quietly working to add Linux throughout its product and service lines. The move is part of a new multiplatform strategy that de-emphasizes its NetWare-centric vision.

Largely in response to customer demand, the network software stalwart has reorganized its engineering units to establish a new group, known internally as the Cross Platform Network Services Group. The leader of the group is Paul Feldman, former head of the companys Networking Services and Solutions Group, which included NetWare.

While Linux support has already been built into some Novell products and solutions, the efforts have largely been piecemeal. The goal now is to make all Novell products run on Linux or be Linux-enabled.

The Linux push is a response to customers, said Alan Nugent, Novells chief technology officer, in Cambridge, Mass., in an interview last week with eWeek. Almost every one of its customers is "doing something with Linux," Nugent said. "So, if you dont have Linux-based products, its almost a barrier to entry."

It is, however, a major reversal for Novell, which for years has primarily focused on the services that run around NetWare.

"We believe we can make a good living by selling services independent of the platform," Nugent said. "We are not abandoning NetWare; were just saying NetWare is part of the world and not the whole world."

Novell, however, could have a difficult time persuading users to accept the Linux strategy, as some say the moves are too little and too late.

Oregon State Universitys College of Business, in Corvallis, had been straddling Microsoft Corp. and Novell platforms. But the school opted for Microsoft because officials felt there was nothing Novell could do that Microsoft could not.

"That feeling is far more pronounced as were now far deeper into application development," said Greg Scott, an OSU IS manager. "Were a big [Microsoft] .Net shop. Were wrapping all our applications around authentication, which is all built around Active Directory. Novells directory service just doesnt cut it."

Others are in accord, including John Kretz, president of Enlightened Point Consulting Group LLC, in Phoenix. Kretz said he welcomed Novells Linux moves but called them two years overdue.

"With just a pinch of foresight, Novell could have established its directory service as the standard for the Linux community," Kretz said. "Now, nearly every Novell shop that Ive ever worked with has migrated to Microsoft products."

To achieve the goal of Linux throughout its products, the Cross Platform Network Services Group is charged with taking the patchwork of Linux code and making it available as a variety of solutions and services on a number of platforms—with NetWare and Linux at the top of that list, followed by Windows, Solaris and others, Nugent said.

Novell wants to release its products across all these platforms simultaneously in the future.

The group will also be responsible for producing branded cross-platform network service products, the first of which is targeted for release in the middle of next year. Novell is looking for Linux partnerships and plans to contribute to the open-source community.

Novell executives recently held a meeting with Linux vendors SuSE Inc., of Oakland, Calif., which is part of the UnitedLinux consortium, as well as with Red Hat Inc., of Raleigh, N.C., a source said. The discussions included potential marketing and distribution alliances and possibly bundling some of Novells technologies with those companies Linux distributions, the source said.

Novell has held a successful test of its ZENworks for Servers product with SuSE Linux, which showed how easily joint product initiatives could be put in place. They would also bring powerful Novell tools to Linux, the source said.

A spokeswoman for SuSE declined to comment.

Novells Nugent, while declining to comment on specifics, confirmed his interest in establishing closer relationships with the leading Linux vendors.

"Wed have to be complete idiots to not understand the importance of the Linux platform," Nugent said.

Enlightened Points Kretz agreed that Novell needs to integrate deeply into those Linux platforms. "They need to make their directory service sing with them. ... Novell will have to use Linux as a Trojan horse to get them back into corporate accounts," he said.