Novell pins hopes on directory model to halt downward slide

As its position in the market slips, Novell changes direction with its Denim strategy. Cliff Saran reports

As its position in the market slips, Novell changes direction with its Denim strategy. Cliff Saran reports

Novell presented a new vision for the company based on directory services rather than its core strengths of network services at last week's BrainShare conference in Salt Lake City.

The proposed new architecture - Directory-Enabled Network Infrastructure Model (Denim) - is built on the company's e-Directory and an extensible set of network services. Through Denim, Novell plans to offer services for network security, management, storage, publishing and the delivery of data and services for e-business.

In his keynote presentation at BrainShare, Eric Schmidt, Novell's chairman and chief executive officer, described the company's strategy as "one Net". By using Denim, Schmidt said, "All the relationships people have can be managed through a single network on a one-to-one basis."

Schmidt said Novell would paint a picture of a new Internet through its Denim strategy, one that would allow a business to treat its customers, business partners and end-users as one entity. "The Net has to be available to everyone all of the time," he explained.

The question is whether Netware has a future. The message from Novell at the conference was that Netware would be the reference operating system platform for Denim. But it would also provide versions of the Denim architecture on Windows NT, Windows 2000, Solaris and Linux.

Users are clearly concerned about the viability of Netware as an operating system platform.

According to analyst group IDC, users are buying fewer Netware servers. And in recent years Novell's position as number one network operating system supplier has been undermined. In 1997, 27% of new server operating systems shipped came from Novell, in 1998 this percentage fell to 21%. In 1999, just 19% of new systems shipped were Netware.

But Novell insists Netware has a future. In March it began shipping Clustering Services for Netware 5.1 and has recently reached the "code complete" stage of Six Pack, a performance upgrade to Netware. According to Craig Miller, Novell's vice president for engineering, "Six Pack will provide Netware with support for symmetric multi-processing."

Novell's goal is for Netware to run faster and more reliably than Windows 2000. Using Six Pack, networking services built on the IP network protocol would be able to run across multiple servers to achieve scalability.

An example would be Novell's Groupwise e-mail server, based on the IP protocol. "We are proving multi-processor support for all the [network] performance services," said Miller. An open beta release of this product is due in the summer. But final shipping code is not expected until this time next year.

As far as 64-bit computing goes, Novell gave a mixed message at BrainShare. While it is steaming ahead with the development of Modesto, the 64-bit version of Netware for Intel's IA-64 architecture, the company's message is that 64-bit computing does not enhance networking. While high performance applications could benefit from a 64-bit architecture, Novell plans to deliver networking with 99.999% uptime, a feat it claims to have demonstrated in its labs.

As for its Denim strategy, industry experts acknowledge that building a network infrastructure on a directory is beneficial as it simplifies network management. Users, departments and business units can be grouped in the directory and the information and applications that they can access controlled.

Through Novell's strategy, this directory can be extended outside an organisation, allowing business partners and teleworkers to log into internal networks and thus share information.

Dan Kusnetzky, research director at IDC, said users will have to look at what Denim will give them above equivalent Microsoft directory technology.

Microsoft operating systems are installed on the vast majority of desktop PCs and the company's share of server operating systems is increasing towards 40%. When users begin deploying the Active Directory both on their desktop PCs and their servers, they will be able to create a directory-enabled network infrastructure. "Why would anyone pay more to use a directory such as one from Novell, when they get they Active Directory free with Windows 2000?" Kusnetsky asks.

CNN is using Novell's directory technology to provide customised Web content to people accessing its financial news Web site. The site tailors online advertising based on a user's profile which is stored in Novell's e-Directory. It uses Netware 5.0 running on two Compaq 5400R dual processor Proliant servers configured with 2Gbyte memory and 76Gbytes of Raid 0 disc arrays. The new site is expected to grow to handle 6 million subscribers by June 2000.

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