BRAINSHARE - Novell users say Linux transitions successful

Resentment about Novell’s technology covenant with Microsoft

As Novell kicks off its annual user conference, customers are enthusiastic about their transitions from the legacy NetWare operating system to Linux. There's discord, however, among Novell users regarding the company's controversial technology pact with Microsoft.

Attendees at BrainShare next week are expecting to hear more about the Microsoft-Novell technology interchange unveiled in November, and about how other users have started integrating NetWare, Linux and Microsoft in their network environments, says Tony Iams, senior analyst with Ideas International.

"A lot of talk [at BrainShare] is going to be the relationship with Microsoft and the technology details of the relationship, as well as proof points -- they are going to be talking about customers who have benefited from the relationship and taken advantage of it," Iams says.

Already the Novell-Microsoft agreement, through which Novell's SUSE Linux is to become the preferred Linux distribution for Windows networks, has borne fruit.

Microsoft has handed out more than 40,000 vouchers for SUSE support to customers, including AIG Technologies, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse and Wal-Mart Stores. The arrangement has netted Novell a US$240 million payment from Microsoft, and Microsoft has agreed to commit US$94 million for sales and marketing and $108 million to protect customers from patent suits.

The Linux community, however, is so enraged by the agreement that it has scheduled a press conference on Monday to discuss the deal's implications on the General Public License and generally "rain on Novell's parade," says open source advocate Bruce Perens, who organized the event.

Perens has his supporters in the fight against Novell. "I switched 100 percent to Kubuntu [a Linux desktop] after Novell signed a contract with the devil," says one network manager who asked not to be identified.

"The deal is not popular with the rank-and-file, though it seems to be quite popular with purchasing offices," adds Greg Riedesel, senior operating system manager for a university in Bellingham, Wash. He expects BrainShare keynote speakers to address the Microsoft-Novell deal, but not linger on the subject.

"Because the keynote audience is largely technicians, I expect that when this deal is mentioned that there will be booing. Attendees have proven at past BrainShares that they are fully willing to boo people on stage," Riedesel says.

While users and executives may be divided on their impressions of the Novell-Microsoft deal, they've embraced the transition to Linux wholeheartedly. Riedesel, for one, has several NetWare 6.5 servers and is testing Novell's Open Enterprise Server (OES) running on Linux.

"We will be phasing our NetWare systems over to OES-Linux," Riedesel says. "It is a largely made decision, but its timing is up in the air." His shop consists of mostly Microsoft and Sun servers with several NetWare 6.5 servers for file serving. "Replacing the Sun servers with SUSE Linux Enterprise Server is on the table, though no final decisions have been made on that front," he adds.

Danita Zanre, who does GroupWise consulting as CEO of Caledonia Network Consulting, has similarly initiated a migration to Linux. Three years ago, Zanre's network consisted entirely of NetWare servers. Today she has two servers running Open Enterprise Server, two running SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and one Windows 2000 server.

In her practice Zanre is witnessing similar transitions. "In many ways, my customers' networks are starting to look like mine," Zanre says. "They have NetWare servers, Windows servers and now even some Linux servers. And it's not just big sites. I have a number of 100-user-type organizations that have all three."

Bryan Keadle, too, has bought into the Linux transition and is migrating all his NetWare servers to Open Enterprise Server using the NetWare kernel for file and print, GroupWise e-mail and ZenWorks. The systems engineer for the village of Palatine, Ill., says he will begin migrating his network completely to Linux when Open Enterprise Server is bundled in SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10.

"Currently, we have a few SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 servers running as hosts for VMware," Keadle says. "Any of our Linux deployments will be on SUSE Linux. Also for this year, I'll be ramping up the SUSE Linux Desktop, converting my workstations and laptops and using open source applications such as Firefox and OpenOffice as a means to reduce our Microsoft licensing obligations."

The momentum of projects such as these is starting to influence Novell's finances. In its first-quarter 2007 results, reported this month, Novell said that while net revenue for the company declined, its Linux revenue grew 46 percent year over year.

For the 2006 fiscal year, Linux revenues accounted for almost 5 percent of Novell's revenue - a number that corresponds evenly with Novell's declining NetWare sales. The company reported revenue of US$15 million for Linux platform products and US$91 million in outstanding billing for Linux products. Meanwhile, its revenues from Open Enterprise Server and NetWare declined 18 percent year over year.

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