Novell could benefit from Microsoft delays

The delay of Microsoft's Windows 2000 release may give Novell a leg up in the enterprise directory interoperability race, with Cisco Systems not slated to deliver Active Directory on Unix platforms until after Windows 2000's planned release in February.

According to sources close to Cisco, the company will release Active Directory on Unix after Windows 2000, although there had been talk about releasing it this year.

Novell Directory Services (NDS) eDirectory, introduced by Novell Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt at Comdex in Las Vegas this month, is an NDS-based service designed to work across corporate and public networks to combine companies' electronic-business solutions. It captures customers' and partners' identity information for increased personalisation. Currently running on multiple platforms, eDirectory will be expanded to Windows 2000, Linux, and Compaq Computer's Tru64 in early 2000.

"(NDS) eDirectory provides that underlying platform to which you can add things like identity management services, security, authentication, all of those in-the-Net services," said Steve Adams, recently named vice president of global marketing at Novell.

Analysts said that focusing on interoperability is a way for Novell to take advantage of the situation presented by Active Directory's delay.

"Novell's window of opportunity is now," said Analyst Dan Kusnetsky, program director for operating environments and servers at International Data Corp. (IDC), in Framingham, Massachusetts. "They are trying to point at the places where they are strong, and what is known about Active Directory indicates it will be weak. A new product that's in beta test can be anything, and it's really hard to compete with the shadow of a beta test product."

However, Kusnetsky believes that Novell must leverage the strength of its directory technology before Microsoft's marketing machine shifts into high gear.

"My sense is Novell is facing an interesting battle that has almost nothing to do with technology and everything to do with grand vision and positioning," Kusnetsky said.

Analysts noted that Novell must convince businesses that directories are a vital piece of their infrastructure, especially in the electronic-commerce realm.

"I firmly believe that (Schmidt) knows Novell has had trouble getting the directory message out, and he also knows that's got to be fixed," said Tim Sloane, managing director of Internet infrastructure research at the Aberdeen Group, in Boston. "Novell understands that they've got this problem -- it's driving them nuts, and they're trying to fix it."

Novell's Adams said he wants to decrease the noise about Novell's perceived marketing shortfalls.

"We've got to re-establish confidence in our ability and credibility in our skill set, and we're only going to do that through execution. If we execute really well, it will become a non-issue -- and that's what it should be," Adams said.

With eDirectory in position to be a platform for Novell's forays into Web infrastructure and directory services, IDC's Kusnetsky said Novell must capitalise quickly on the advantage afforded by Active Directory's late release date.

"If (Novell) has not established itself as the predominant directory service for operating environments at that point, then Microsoft's machine will make it very difficult to make progress after that point," Kusnetsky added.

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