Novell's Sketchy Survival Strategy

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 senior vice president and CTO.

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.

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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.

This story was first published on CrossNodes, an site.

» See All Articles by Columnist Jacqueline Emigh

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