Chief technology officer, Novell Canada

Back in the 80s when New Wave music was all the rave, Novell NetWare reigned supreme over corporate networks. Then along came Microsoft Windows Server NT, which toppled Novell from its throne.What Open Enterprise Server does uniquely is bring that plug piece that lets your hairdryer work everywhere.Ross Chevalier >Text

Now, in a bid to regain its former glory, Novell is re-architecting its offerings to run in a multiplicity of environments. Whether networks are Microsoft, Unix, Linux or some combination, Novell is offering customers choices they didn’t have in the past to unify and simplify their system environments.

Susan Heystee , a Canadian who was appointed president of Novell Americas in August 2005, talked to IT World Canada about Novell’s strategy at an exclusive briefing at Novell Canada’s headquarters in Markham, Ont.

“Novell provides software infrastructure for the open enterprise,” she said. “We have many customers who need to operate and support multiple, different operating environments, and we work within that.”

The company is positioning itself to fill the either-or gap in the market between closed source behemoth Microsoft and open source purist Red Hat to appeal to enterprises that want to migrate some or all their systems to Linux painlessly.

Novell has made some serious investments to achieve that vision. In January 2004, the company acquired European Linux vendor SuSE Linux, thereby becoming the only global source for Linux in the enterprise. With a global network of over 700 people, Novell has more staff dedicated to open source technical support staff alone than all of Red Hat’s employees combined.

“When real businesses choose to use open source, they can’t be dependent on sending an e-mail to some distribution list and hoping some smart kid in Finland answers it,” said Ross Chevalier, chief technology officer of Novell Canada. “They need to know they can phone one organization that’s going to be accountable and take them through the whole process.”

The company also rolled out its Open Enterprise Server (OES) in January 2005, which provides NetWare services re-architected for Linux. Comparing OES’ workings to an adapter for a hairdryer, Chevalier explained OES’ appeal. “What OES does uniquely is bring that plug piece that lets your hairdryer work everywhere. Do you want to run that on network kernel or Linux? Users don’t care because they’re just using the hairdryer, but it’s great to have a choice.”

The company’s long-term vision, said Heystee, is to serve as the hybrid bridge for companies that want to transition gradually to open source, but don’t want to discard investments in existing infrastructure. “We are seeing requests and requirements for that already in the market today. That’s definitely part of our strategy.”

A key component of that strategy is Novell’s identity management offering, which is in line with its philosophy of helping companies preserve and manage existing, heterogeneous infrastructure within a single framework. “No forklift is required to make this work. Whatever platforms customers happen to have chosen, our solution protects what they’ve already got,” said Chevalier.

This is something Novell can do but Microsoft can’t, in Heystee’s view. “We provide identity management across a whole environment,” she said, be it closed or open-source or some combination. The company offers role-based resource management and provisioning to manage users’ identities throughout their employment cycle, from entry to exit, with appropriate access approvals or rejections handled immediately and automatically.

This type of end-user provisioning software, also called “Zero Day Start” and “Zero Day Stop” – according to industry observers – is one of the most requested forms of identity management today. Novell also provides reporting and audit ability, said Heystee, to support the control processes required in Sarbanes-Oxley, with a compliance process built around identity and access management.

In Canada, Linux uptake is progressing slowly, largely due to longstanding investments in Microsoft Windows. However, according to IDC Canada’s Canadian IT Market Forecast and Analysis 2005-2009, Linux is increasing its penetration but is still primarily installed on servers running “edge of the network”, or volume-oriented, workloads, and also has a sizeable presence in technical workloads, such as high-performance computing.

Chevalier said Novell wanted to help customers build on what they already have. “There are great proprietary office suites, and there are also great open source suites. Choice is our message: Have a look at both and pick the ones that fit.”

Novell also has some ambitious research projects under way in collaboration with Red Hat, IBM and other members of the Open Innovation Network, an open source consortium. One is to build on Beagle , a toolset pioneered by Novell, to develop a search tool that can find information wherever it may be – Web, server or hard drive. “Users would not need to use five or six different search tools,” says Chevalier. Pooling resources for these community-based open source initiatives has a major advantage, he said. “Smart people aren’t localized in one company.”

Taking a leadership position in open source means contributing to the open source community and dedicating resources to develop innovative ideas and deliver compelling business tools, says Heystee. “Open source is more than Novell or Red Hat.”

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