No more walls for Novell customers

Novell Inc. is working to make its presence felt. The vendor recently announced a new strategy and a series of product announcements, in a move one analyst says is long overdue.

“Novell’s been so good at their job, they’ve been invisible,” explained Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst with Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp. “[Users] don’t even necessarily know that they’re working in a Novell environment.”

The company this month unveiled the next phase of its directory-based networking strategy, called NET Services, which included two ZENworks products, a directory search tool and an e-commerce business-to-business solution.

“From 1984 to 1997, people thought of us as a NOS company,” explained recently-appointed Novell chief operating officer Stewart Nelson. “What wasn’t clear to people was that from 1997 to 1999, we really warped ourselves into a network management company.”

Nelson said the company is warping itself again with its NET Services strategy, but he stressed the announcement does not mean the company is abandoning its previous strategy. Instead, he looks at it as more of a building block.

“This is not actually a revolution, it’s more of an evolution of who we are,” he explained. “We believe that this idea of there being a firewall between businesses and their customers is not going to work. It doesn’t make sense for anyone to have their company running wonderfully and then having this big wall between them and the people who they do business with.”

The idea of simplifying business-to-business e-commerce transactions without walls was enforced with the release of iChain, intranet and extranet integration services to link businesses and their services through the Internet. iChain allows companies to authenticate select business partners, while protecting any information they want to remain secure and private. Users are also able to create communities of users, and custom portals.

iChain uses DirXML to link the data sources, and rests on the Novell Directory Services (NDS) eDirectory, explained Smita Deshpande, director of Internet solutions at Novell. It also enables services to be provided in hosting environments, along with a billing system integration.

“It uses eDirectory as a data store, to store user information and relationship management information, relationship information (and) configuration information,” she said. “It gives you a centralized mechanism for managing all this information and for enforcing a centralized security policy across all of this as well.”

ZENworks for servers, which is due to ship in March, centralizes multiple-server management and enables network administrators to set individual policies for many servers at the same time. Customers can purchase licenses for ZENworks for Servers at a starting price of US$75 per user.

“The whole objective of the product is to reduce the repetitive management tasks that are eating up IT resources, that’s keeping them from focusing on the strategic, that keeps them from making the jump into the next level of networking which is e-business and on-line businesses processes,” explained Jason Werner, product marketing manager for Novell.

The second ZENworks product, ZENworks for Networks, enables companies to set policies that automate the management of network equipment and control quality of service (QoS) from a variety of different vendors, including Lucent, Cisco and 3Com. Already available, pricing begins at US$70 per seat.

eGuide, the final product announced, allows users to access data stored in an NDS eDirectory as well as any other data source which supports the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP). Users can access names, phone and fax numbers, e-mail addresses and locations, and can also customize the eGuide for access to a specific type of information.

With the information listed, users can communicate through e-mail or instant messaging within an interface that runs on any Web browser. Novell’s eGuide, characterized as “white pages,” will be available at the end of February and pricing will be announced then.

Kusnetzky said he is impressed with all the new offerings, but said the announcements mean nothing if the marketing isn’t there.

“We’ve used the predecessor to some of these products and have thought pretty highly of them,” he explained. “My biggest question is not about technology, however. The technology is sound, and it looks quite good. The question is: how are they going to market this?”

While he said it appears that the company’s focus is shifting from the technologist to the business person, he would like to see that direction taken more aggressively.

Kusnetzky added these products have the potential of being very important, but “only Novell has the potential to make it so.”