Novell CEO picking his battles

Users agree with company’s plan to create infrastructure services, but see short-term issues that need answers

He says Novell's platform will be the foundation developers use to run their Web 2.0 technologies.

Hovsepian says his infrastructure "stack" includes operating systems, the database, systems management, security, middleware and application servers. At each level, Novell has a compete and/or complement strategy.

"We are not going to replace system management frameworks, but we solve a unique set of problems that are new because of the evolution of consolidation, virtualization and optimization. We can build on top of those frameworks and that is where Novell gets a legitimate shot," Hovsepian says.

He says the stack can be built on one of two foundations: J2EE or .Net.

"Let's be realistic -- I want you to pick the J2EE stack not the Microsoft stack," he says. "But after you pick one, I want to show that I do this better at the [operating system] level than anyone, that I have the best desktop-to-data center Linux story and I work with Windows. That is the subtlety that is very important for us."

Hovsepian is pumped up to take his shot against anyone, but Novell is not without its challenges, including Red Hat, which owns nearly 80 per cent of the Linux market.

Observers say that his strategic tactics, however, are a pragmatic evaluation of Novell's future opportunities.

"It's smart for Novell to define the way they want to compete and to create an image of how they want to be positioned and not fall into the trap of letting others put them in a box," says Gerry Gebel, an analyst with the Burton Group.

Novell is using acquisitions to help refine that positioning, including its February purchase of SiteScape and its ICEcore collaboration tools, a Web-based team workspace and real-tine conferencing platform that includes Web 2.0 and social networking technologies.

Those qualities were missing from a collaboration portfolio that included just GroupWise, an aging messaging platform Novell has spruced up over the years with features such as instant messaging.

Novell, which will sell the SiteScape technology in an OEM capacity before buying the company, not only turned the technology into its Teaming + Conferencing platform, but it continues to support the open source ICEcore project.

The project encourages contributors to build Web 2.0 and social networking tools for the platform much the same way Microsoft is encouraging developers to build those add-ons for SharePoint and IBM/Lotus is doing with Quickr.

Novell plans to continue to tap acquisitions, such as SiteScape and the recent US$205 million purchase of PlateSpin, to fill out its product line and meet its strategic goals,

"You are going to see us use organic and inorganic, or acquisitions, as methods to innovate and to position ourselves," Hovsepian says. "We don't need to go outside those businesses because those markets are so big."

As Novell looks long range, users are hoping it will clear up some short-term issues including education, certifications and desktop application support.

"When it comes to hiring people it is a challenge for us," says Tom Johnson, director of IT of Chicago-based Metropolitan Bank Group. "Novell could help by expanding its [Certified Linux Engineer] program, their certifications and getting people more educated."

Baldor Electric's Shackelford said in independent software vendor support is getting better but needs improvement if Novell really wants Linux to find a place on the desktop.

If Hovsepian has his way, the short-term issues will get solved within the success of his overall plan.

But now that Novell has its goals defined, it faces the lingering nemesis from its closing days as a big-time technology provider -- execution.

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