Novell's announcement last week that it would migrate NetWare file and print, collaboration and security services to Linux could have created a lot more buzz among industry watchers and customers if only it had come sooner.
Instead, the move was met with a mixture of applause and skepticism.
Novell announced at its annual BrainShare user conference that it would continue to develop and support products and services for the NetWare operating system and also migrate them to the increasingly popular Linux platform.
"As Linux increases its presence in the corporate world, we are actively building out our services to work on Linux," says Jack Messman, Novell chairman and CEO. "It's all about choice. If customers want to go to Linux, we will get them there without a lot of pain and aggravation."
Within 18 months, Novell promised to introduce a raft of services that run natively on Linux. The first will be NetWare 7, code-named Uinta, a version of its flagship operating system that will be available on NetWare and Linux kernels.
"It's a fairly clever move, but only if they can pull it off," says Earl Perkins, an analyst for Meta Group Inc. "Novell has had mixed results in the past being able to do these things. The big problem is we are looking at 18 months before they will have significant services working on Linux. It would have been better if they made this decision a little bit sooner."
Just last year Novell promised that NetWare would compete head to head with products from Microsoft Corp. and IBM Corp. thanks to its acquisition of Web services company SilverStream Software. In 1998, when Novell shipped NetWare 5, the company said it had a strong application server platform that could compete with Microsoft. However, those visions have gone unfulfilled.
Although Novell officials say they have not decided which Linux distribution the NetWare kernel will use, they say NetWare users have been asking for this capability.
"We see Linux as a good migration path for NetWare users, who were worried about where we were heading with NetWare and were worried that there might not be a migration path beyond a certain version," Messman says. "We wanted to give them comfort that they could get all the services they have with NetWare."
The company already has several products and services that run on Linux. Among the most prominent are eDirectory and ZENworks. At BrainShare, Novell showed off Linux products such as a client for GroupWise based on technology acquired from Newcomp Computer Systems and an alpha-version GroupWare server running on Linux.
Novell customers say the company really has no choice but to embrace Linux.
"It would be great if Novell just took everything they did and put it on Linux," says Peter Strifas, senior directory engineer for Mount Sinai-New York University Health Organization in New York. "The biggest problem we've been having lately is facing hardware vendors that don't have NetWare support. For example, HP doesn't support NetWare on its server blades. That was just enough for management to ask why we were keeping this stuff around."
Strifas manages about 60 NetWare servers and uses Novell's eDirectory and other tools.
Doug Spindler, an Active Directory services coordinator for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., also is encouraged by Novell's plans. Lawrence Berkeley deploys Linux clusters that have as many as 1,700 four-processor nodes for crunching scientific data.
"These [researchers] are very closely related to open source Linux," Spindler says. "If Novell keeps its NetWare Linux open and standard, Lawrence Berkeley may embrace this, but they also may not." Spindler's organization has 100 Windows and 25 NetWare servers providing core services.
"We are trying to consolidate services, so it doesn't make sense for each department to have its own applications, infrastructure and virus signatures," he says. "When it comes to the operating systems, it would be great if all of them ran on Linux. If Novell tries to domineer Linux vendors, affect open source and require that you use a Novell DNS server, that's not going to fly. Novell has to be a peer to other Linux vendors."
Novell says more than 5,000 people attended BrainShare this year, roughly the same as last year.