SAN JOSE, CALIF. (02/11/2000) - Novell last week aired a grand vision for helping companies build powerful e-commerce systems.
As expected, the company introduced its iChain business-to-business software, ZEN-works for Servers and ZEN-works for Networks management software, and personal Internet white pages called eGuide. Then, in perhaps the most unexpected break from tradition, the company best known for its network operating system, hinted it would host network services in a plan Novell CEO Eric Schmidt dubbed ePro.
With ePro, Novell will partner with ISPs and application service providers (ASP) to offer customers services based on the company's Novell Directory Services (NDS) eDirectory, management and security products. While details are fuzzy, ePro calls for Novell to set up ISPs that specialize in Novell services, such as storage, mail, net publishing or security. Novell did not rule out becoming a service provider of its own software.
"The outsourced IT model is critical to our success. By 2002, the mix of our business will be evenly split between core product sales and transactional-usage, subscription-like fees," says Dave Shirk, senior vice president of product marketing and management at Novell in Provo, Utah. The company's recent acquisitions of firms such as JustOn, a provider of online disk space for users, pave the way for these types of services, Shirk says.
In fact, Novell as a "proof of concept" has dabbled in the ISP market for two years. For example, the company owns an ISP called Neticus (www.neticus.com), which provides Internet access, e-mail, Web pages and newsgroups to Novell employees. Neticus uses Novell's Net-Ware 5, BorderManager, the NetScape Enterprise Server and the Novell Internet Messaging System.
Novell announced last year it had also tested the ePro concept with two other sites, MyRealBox and DigitalMe. MyRealBox is a Web-based free e-mail service.
DigitalMe is an online service for users that lets them store personal information, access sites through a single password, fill in registration forms automatically and create address books.
Shirk would prefer to find specialized ISPs to partner with that will host Novell products and technologies, rather than build a huge Novell data center to handle services. The company is negotiating with a number of large telecom companies, ASPs and ISPs to take part in this plan, Shirk says. But he declines to name them.
Richard Reid, manager of worldwide messaging and directory for advertising holding company True North Communications in Chicago, is an advocate of the outsourcing concept.
"More and more we are partnering with integrators, vendors and developers to do our work," Reid says. "We can't keep up with everything that's coming out.
Someone who can come in and do that right away is important."
That's where iChain could help. IChain products and services will let companies assemble, outsource or lease secure, managed, directory-based e-commerce sites from its own products and those of its partners and third-party vendors.
IChain uses NDS eDirectory and eliminates the need for a corporate firewall by offering a customizable security system that will let enterprise users give their customers access to services they define.
"A couple of years ago, users were huddled behind their firewalls," Schmidt says. "They made sure that all the bad people out there couldn't get into their networks. The problem was, their customers were out there, too."
Novell will use existing products and services to equip iChain, as well as some new Novell products and packages from its partners. These products include NDS eDirectory, security products such as the Certificate Server and FireWall for NT, its ZENworks management software and eGuide.
For instance, partner Whittman-Hart, an e-business provider, introduced e-Catalog, an e-commerce package that lets customers see a personalized catalog of products and services. Among Novell's iChain partners are IBM, Compaq, PeopleSoft and Perot Systems.
The directory is key
NDS eDirectory, the crux of iChain, is Novell's crossplatform repository for collecting information and data about equipment, resources and transactions - including the personal identities and characteristics of its subscribers.
Novell Certificate Server is used to issue secure digital certificates.
Using information stored in the directory, companies will also be able to bill and account for each e-commerce transaction and manage revenue reporting and analysis.
"At its core, iChain is a directory services play that allows companies to set policies and provision applications for internal, as well as external, use," says Neil MacDonald, an analyst with Gartner Group, a consultancy in Stamford, Conn.
"For us, iChain is key - it centralizes data in a directory and lets us share it," says Chip DiComo, network manager with Hellman Worldwide Logistics in Miami. "One of the biggest headaches we have is producing address books for business partners so they can reach our employees worldwide.
"That's just the start. With iChain, we can actually start conducting business and doing authorizations," he says.
IChain will be available in 60 days; ePro services will be available later this year.