New Novell CEO in all-out Linux push

Novell's new CEO Ronald Hovsepian and current CTO Jeffrey Jaffe have a lot to talk about, as the company refocuses on open-source software following an executive shakeup in June. Both executives gave some insights on Novell's strategy to use the majority of its resources -- support, marketing, sales, product development and some US$1.4 billion in cash reserves -- to become a full-fledged Linux company. The CEO and CTO also talked about why everyone should have a Linux desktop pilot running.

What will change at Novell now that you've moved into the CEO post?

Hovsepian: [There are] three basic things we need to do stronger as a corporation. One is simplification. By that I mean we just have to drive a level of simplification into our business processes and our business model. We have room to improve there dramatically in the way we work with out partners and the way we run the business for our customer -- really being very customer-oriented in terms of simplification.

The second piece is focus. Under focus I think of it in terms of market segments and customer segments -- bringing more focus and prioritization into those pieces as to what we need to do inside the company as a second dimension.

The third aspect of it is execution. We made a statement to Wall Street that we would deliver 12 percent to 15 percent operating income by exit fourth quarter of 2008. We have to deliver on our commitments. We have to deliver on our product commitments. We have to deliver on our financial commitments. And we have to deliver on our employee commitments.

So what are you simplifying, and what is the focus?

Hovspeian: Really a couple of things. One, taking Linux as the centerpiece of what this company is capable of doing. One of the great things of what Linux brings to us is the opportunity to do things differently.

I view Linux as one of the great enablers. Linux holds a lot of things inside the distribution that are going to be very important to our customers.

We're doing two things with Linux. One is the enablement -- virtualization enablement and other things like that. The second part of it is introducing a separate enterprise approach for our customers.

When you stop and think about what Linux can bring and what we're doing -- we're really focusing in on creating this server-to-the-desktop story. This is really what we're focused on in the Linux dimension.

Right now, we run our Linux distribution on a zSeries mainframe, we run on RISC processors, we run on Intel processors, we run on kiosks. We run it on point-of-sale devices, banking devices. Then we have two desktops: one is a thin client; one is a fat client. That story is an enterprise story for our customers.

What can enterprises expect from the upcoming version 10 of SuSE Enterprise Linux Server and Desktop?

Hovspeian: The great part is that the Code 10 release is going to give us one single common code base across all those platforms. So why is that good for my customer? It's efficiency -- operationally efficiency. Train them once, get the scale across the organization. Why is it good for us? Same reason: operational efficiency.

Now what we've done is given our customer the ability to have choice inside the market in what they can do at an enterprise level. The second thing we're doing is this enablement. What I mean by enablement is that we see the distribution being able to do a lot of pieces inside of the market.

Let's take virtualization. Our team has the most [contributors of open-source virtualization code] besides Xensource. Virtualization needs to be enabled within the kernel. That's important because virtualization is going to touch processor, memory, disk, and network. You're going to have virtualized containers moving around networks. You'll have a lot of moving pieces here that are really going to be important.

As you look at the enablement, there also has to be management. Just because you enabled something to be virtualized -- now, how do you manage it? How do you do load-balancing? You have a whole bunch of questions that have to be handled from a management perspective.

So when I said focus, we're going to focus on Linux as an enabler here, and as an enterprise story. That's one piece. The second piece of the story really plays to Novell's historical DNA. With those management services, we think we can bring a lot of value for our customers, by helping them look at a mixed-source environment.

What technologies does Novell have over other Linux-focused companies to help customers use Linux?

Hovsepian: Our directory [technology] and our network heritage really give us a distinctive advantage in the market. If you look at our identity services, that's an opportunity we have at the management layer, where we do the best heterogeneous job of anybody in the market. We'll take any directory -- from Sun, Microsoft, IBM and [Novell] and we can tie them all together for our customers in a meta-directory. Those are the kinds of things that we've just always classically done as a network-based company.

We see, for example, our NetWare transitioning to open enterprise services. What's exciting about it is that it's one of those management services running on a Linux platform. So it's a very logical evolution for our customers and ourselves without having to do major brain surgery.

You said that Linux gives you the opportunity to do things differently? What does that mean?

Jaffe: The only thing I might add is that we're going to take open source as the enterprise story. It might be useful to show examples of how the enterprise story enables us to take Linux to new places for us, where we haven't been before.

The Linux desktop has historically has been used in many places: the kiosks, point-of-sale, thin clients. We think that the Code 10 desktop shipping next month is the first Linux desktop which is going to fit like a glove into a networked enterprise world.

So to that we did a careful market segmentation of all desktops. We discovered that one-third of desktops are the corporate knowledge workers, who live in five applications: Web, e-mail, presentation graphics, word processing and spreadsheet. If we just focus on those five, we think we can do an excellent job for that networked client. So, we have OpenOffice 2.0, shipping with the desktop, which is miles beyond OpenOffice 1.0. In terms of e-mail, we have interoperability with Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes and Active Directory. So it's really living in that full network world.

What is the state of the SuSE community?

Hovsepian: In terms of the overall community, there is a good metric to look at. It's called distrowatch.com. Over the past year, we have been doing over 30 percent more downloads than Red Hat... From that perspective, as part of the mindshare/market-share game, we're actually the leader. Right now with the Code 10 release, we're downloading one every seven to eight seconds.

Do I believe that our competitor [Red Hat] does a better job in the marketing dimension? They've probably captured a little bit more mindshare until recently... I'm literally tracking this thing at a much closer level of detail. Reports show we're taking the mindshare. Obviously now you have to translate that and monetize that. From a mindshare standpoint, Novell is squarely in the game.

Also, from a community perspective, we've got over 30 rock stars from my point of view who are known in the community as great innovators -- whether it's Nat Friedman or Miguel de Icaza, Andreas Jeager. So from that point of view I feel really good. We're number 2 in terms of contribution of open source virtualization code; that's why we were able to ship [Xen virtualization] six months ahead of Red Hat. So when you really look underneath it from a technology and community perspective, the momentum is building for Novell right now.

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