Major league effort, minor league performance

Can you hit a home run and strike out in the same at-bat? If you said “no”, then you weren’t at Novell Inc.’s BrainShare user conference in Salt Lake City late in March.

Let’s look at the home run first.

For the first time in years, Novell is delivering a clear message about where it is going and how it hopes to get there. Novell intends to be the “fabric” of the net, and that’s one net — Internet, intranet and extranet.

Under the rubric of the Directory Enabled Network Infrastructure Model (DENIM), the company wants to be the software plumbing of this worldwide network.

The primary focus is eDirectory (formerly NDS), but it’s almost as if Eric Schmidt and his pals have decided that the directory is a given and they’re now moving on to the directory-enabled services and applications that will drive business-to-business, business-to-consumer and person-to-person communication on the Internet.

No less important is another focal point — network appliances. Novell’s Internet Caching Server (ICS) was the first and with new OEM partnerships coming almost weekly, it could soon be ubiquitous.

Introduced this year was a network-attached storage appliance, again to be manufactured by traditional computer hardware makers but powered by the NetWare kernel. It looks like a home run to me.

Unfortunately, many BrainShare attendees might have thought of the week as a strikeout. This, after all, is the hard-core network crowd — network managers and administrators in businesses and universities from around the world. They came to hear about NetWare, and they were disappointed. The network operating system was mentioned in passing, but the focus of the event remained the Internet.

Even when Novell icon Drew Major spoke at the March 31 keynote session, he got a standing ovation initially, but the audience then sat on their hands through a seemingly endless stream of demos of Internet technologies.

Schmidt reaffirmed his commitment to sell NetWare “for 100 years and more.” But will it be the NetWare the faithful have come to know and love, or will it be simply eking out an existence as the kernel running the network appliances?

Novell delivered an impressive message and certainly looked like a company that is ready to be a major player. But Novell, was this the right audience to hear that message?