Any Solution In a Storm? Novell's Sketchy Survival Strategy

by Jacqueline Emigh

Analysts, users, and Novell are at loggerheads over the company's 'solutions' strategy and product cuts aimed at its Netware line.

To fend off growing competition from Microsoft's Windows 2000, Linux, and other network operating environments, Novell has begun to articulate a new product roadmap and "solutions" strategy.

Under its emerging "solutions" approach, Novell hopes to shore up its market position by selling products and services that work with each other to solve "business problems." says Dr. Carl Ledbetter, Novell's CTO and senior VP.

Meanwhile, the company will eliminate some existing offerings from its catalog of over 160 products. The company hasn't yet decided which products to drop, Ledbetter says, "but it doesn't make sense to keep them all."

Although some technical users might disagree, many industry observers think that Novell needs to beef up its marketing pitch to business folks in order to stay in the running in the networking game. The consensus isn't quite as clear, yet, that the "solutions" approach and current product roadmap constitute the best ways to go.

Many people find Novell's concept of "solutions" vague or confusing:

"The strategy is still very vague in my opinion. What products will have required services? Will customers need to have consulting to install NetWare? Probably not - so is that a solution? I think Novell has some more work to do in defining where products end and where services begin. Having said that, though, focusing on solutions instead of technology is a good mindset change for Novell," says John Enck, GartnerGroup's VP and research director for server and director strategies.

Novell officials have pointed to several upcoming products as linchpins in the "solutions" strategy: eDirectory 8.7; a provisioning toolkit codenamed Mercury (due out this summer); and three future releases of NetWare, codenamed Nikoma, Uinta, and Hayden. Also in the works are kits geared to provisioning solutions for customers and university students. According to Skehan, Novell views financial services as one promising market for customer provisioning. Meanwhile, Novell is also eyeing possible toolkits for portal and BPM (business process management) solutions.

Nikoma, the next major release of NetWare, will add a Web browser interface, along with simplified iFolder and iPrint features. Availability is slated for the first half of 2003.

Further out on Novell's roadmap, Uinta and Hayden are both planned for the second half of 2004. Novell has plans for Uinta as a 64-bit server. Hayden, however, will operate on tiny blade servers.

Other future product releases from Novell, including eDirectory 8.7 and the provisioning toolkit, are much closer at hand. Scheduled to enter open beta on April 15, 8.7 will add UDDI support, along with a new management tool called iManager. "The goal is to use eDirectory 8.7 as a platform for building solutions," Ledbetter says.

Ultimately, the solutions strategy should simplify some implementations even more, according to Joe Skehan, senior product manager in Novell's Net Directory Services.

"First, we're developing the solutions ourselves. Next, we're beta testing the solutions to find the flaws. Then, we'll release the solutions as products through customizable toolkits," Skehan says.

"The only place NetWare is going is up," declares Chris Stone, who recently rejoined Novell as vice chairman following a three-year stint founding Tilion.

According to Ed Anderson, director of product management for Novell's Net Directory Services, iManager will let network managers assign different levels of directory access, based on user roles and identities. Novell will use XML to enable remote management from both Web browsers and handheld devices.

Meanwhile, Novell faces some big challenges in moving to attract business-oriented buyers, while at the same time maintaining its popularity with network managers and other technical folks. At the same time, on the consulting side of the "solutions" equation, the company is still in the process of integrating its own in-house consulting arm with Cambridge Technology Partners (CTP), an outside firm acquired by the company about a year ago.

"Novell has always provided technical excellence. In fact, some products have been technically brilliant. For the past eight years, though, business people have been making more and more of the IT buying decisions. Novell has the products to do user authentication, provisioning, and transformations, for example. This isn't a message, however, that's understandable to business executives," says Dan Kusnetsky, vice president of systems software research for IDC.

Historically, Novell's technical emphasis has extended to consulting, too. "Novell's consulting practice has traditionally been product-driven. 'You need i-Folder, we got i-Folder," notes Laura Koetzle, an analyst at Forrester Research.

Novell continues to target the technical market with its operational consultants, according to Koetzle. Last month, though, Novell assigned some former CTP staffers to work as "hunters," drumming up new business among corporate executives. "CTP previously used a 'customer solutions' approach that worked out pretty well for them. Business decision-makers is where CTP comes in," she says.

Other analysts hold a variety of reservations over the product roadmap and solutions strategy. Michael Hoch, an analyst at the Aberdeen Group, says he thinks Novell might be competitively better off to use its eDirectory product to sell solutions, instead of the other way around.

"Novell's directory is larger, more stable, and better understood than Microsoft's. It's been around longer. Microsoft's directory is not Internet-ready or registry-capable yet, although it will be in version 2.0, due out next year," according to Hoch.

Gartner's Enck maintains, though, that Novell and its competitors will also encounter increasing commoditization in the directory space. "Novell will have to walk the line between enabling its products and supporting other directories, as well. A good example is Zenworks. Eventually, Zenworks will support other directories, but Novell will want to make sure the 'best experience' is with eDirectory," says Enck.

In a recent report, Enck and other Gartner analysts called upon Novell to expand more beyond NetWare into multi-vendor operating environments with its new product development. "If Novell continues to focus on the needs of NetWare users when designing and marketing new solutions, it will only be a niche player selling to a happy but ever-declining user base," according to the report.

For their part, however, some technically oriented users are already starting to wish that Novell would go back to basics. "I'm not sure whether solutions like HR provisioning will be that useful for smaller companies. Maybe Novell should stick more to its NetWare core," suggests Robin Saeva, LAN administrator for the Utah Housing Corporation.

Other long-time NetWare devotees worry over Novell's intentions to discontinue some of its products. This isn't the first time Novell has dropped products that customers have already invested in, according to Walter E. Gray, WAN manager at Twin Disc Inc. Gray points to WordPerfect - a product sold to Corel - as one prime example.

Still others contend that the NetWare user base has nothing to fret about. According to Ledbetter, Novell will work with customers to find out which Novell products they're using, and which they are not.

"Some people will probably shout, 'Oh, you're not cutting that product, are you? I like that product.' When the actual decisions come out, though, people will respond, "Oh. I never used that product anyway," affirms Kusnetsky.

On the other hand, some technical users say they actually favor the "solutions" approach, since it bundles in the outside expertise often needed for deploying Novell's most complex products. "Many companies don't have specialized knowledge about this DirXML and ZenWorks stuff. We need help in putting it together, and in maintaining it," acknowledges Jeff Erickson, IT management specialist at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

» See All Articles by Columnist Jacqueline Emigh

This article was originally published on Tuesday Mar 26th 2002