Novell looks beyond Network OS to alter profile

With Novell's effort to become a supplier of operating system-independent network services based on Novell Directory Services (NDS) well under way, the company is starting to turn its attention to the next phase of its reinvention under the leadership of company president Eric Schmidt.

During the next six months, Novell will make significant moves intended to further promote network directory-based applications, in areas such as internet commerce. The company will introduce a series of offerings expected to help IT managers deploy virtual private networks (VPNs), manage user policies and content across multiple Web servers, and provide secure network access.

The company's plans include a tool code-named SSLizer, for secure VPNs, and a set of role-based services based on NDS 8.

These and other products would continue Novell's departure from its previous identity as primarily a network operating system vendor, which had been established through its popular flagship product, NetWare.

Novell's role-based services would provide an application layer on top of NDS to designate generic policies based on what a user does in the enterprise, rather than merely on the user's name. A wizard-based utility would enable IT managers to set up tasks and privileges for each role.

SSLizer, meanwhile, would allow IT managers to set up "clientless" VPNs, a situation in which individual PCs would not require client software to establish a browser-based VPN session. This is because the Secure Sockets Layer security technology will be managed in the directory, according to Patrick Harr, Novell product line manager, in California.

But at least one Novell user said the company would face challenges in establishing itself as a vendor of services such as virtual private network software.

"VPNs have been so hot that it's pretty crowded," said Steve Rieco, senior systems engineer at Pepsico, in North Carolina. "I don't know if Novell can crack in there."

In general, Novell sees the emergence of Internet appliance servers as a key growth opportunity for its software. The company plans to position SSLizer, for example, as a hardware appliance-based technology, similar to its Internet Caching System, which is being utilised by Compaq and Dell, Harr said.

Also in the area of security, Novell plans to offer lower-cost certificate services via NDS. This would provide mutual authentication between parties that deploy and utilise an application, rather than requiring two parties to rely on a trusted third source for verification.

Novell last week released the beta of Net Publisher for directory-enabled Web publishing. Net Publisher allows businesses to have secure access to and better management of Web content.

Novell's internet-commerce advances include directory-enabled caching, which would allow internet-commerce companies to target ads at users, based on profiles.

To further the directory enablement of applications, Novell plans to develop a visual mapping tool and style sheets to link the directory to applications via the use of Extensible Markup Language (XML). These tools will work with Novell's DirXML product, which uses XML to link NDS to electronic-business applications.

Also on the drawing board for Novell is ZEN for Networks, which would be the tool organisations would use to provide configuration and on-the-fly services for invoking policies on log-in, via configuration of routers.

Novell said the company has pondered a variety of ways to propagate NDS in enterprises, including giving it away for free or allowing free trial periods.

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