I've been following the market for system software for quite some time and have watched Novell's efforts, which include the venerable NetWare and SUSE Linux, with some interest since the 1980s. The company's announcement of Open Enterprise Server 2; an amalgam of one part Linux, one part NetWare services, one part ZENworks management software and one part Xen virtual machine software; appeared to be an innovative way to serve their customer's needs, move forward to provide ever-better features and functions while still maintaining a tight control of the company's research budget.
Here are a few of Novell's words on the topic:
Open Enterprise Server 2 features innovations in storage management and enhancements to simplify user access in Microsoft* Windows* environments, along with the virtualization of NetWare®. These and other updates complete the Open Enterprise Server shift to providing workgroup services completely on SUSE® Linux Enterprise Server.
By using SUSE Linux Enterprise Server as the foundation for trusted Novell workgroup services, Open Enterprise Server provides the benefits of 64-bit hardware support, along with enhancements such as virtualization of NetWare, Dynamic Storage Technology and Domain Services for Windows.
Over the years, Novell's NetWare went from being the dominant server operating environment when shipment were considered (dominant, by the way, being defined as either greater than 50% share of a given market or more than twice the share of the next competitor) to being way down the list having been passed by Windows and Linux along the way.
Although the shipment volume declined, the size and importance of each shipment increased over the years. I would bet that petabytes of corporate applications and data are still supported by NetWare-based systems.
Organizations want the hole not the drill
Novell wisely realized that few organizations purchased system software just for the enjoyment of purchasing system software and started thinking in the same terms CIOs did. They became more interested in delivering the functions and system services needed than being too focused on an operating system.
Novell quickly understood that what they were offering their clients was safe, manageable, fast and scalable delivery of applications and data over the network. Customers cared little whether those applications and system services were delivered to them by a NetWare kernel or a Linux kernel and decided to focus on Linux while still maintaining an investment in Netware.
Novell decides to offer a Linux/NetWare cocktail
In order to make best use of their limited engineering resources, Novell made NetWare Services an add-on feature for their SUSE Linux operating environment. This allowed them to focus on developing device drivers, processor support, etc. once and use it several ways. Thus Novell's Open Enterprise Server (OES) was born.
The newest generation of OES has taken this thought quite a bit further. Now NetWare services can be hosted on a physical machine or as one of many virtual machines supported by SUSE Linux 10.
Clever way to satisfy customers and focus on future markets
This approach has allowed Novell to satisfy NetWare customers' needs while focusing on a larger market, providing a platform for applications and network application services using the Linux operating system.
I have three words for you "Microsoft" and "Red Hat."
Overall, the folks at Novell seem to be "nice guys" and do their best to compete on functions, features and what a given product will do for an organization rather than stooping to street fighting.
When I spoke with Jason Wilson and Keith Clarke of Novell recently, they both focused on what the product would do rather than taking potshots at the competition.
In an ideal world, this gentile approach would be the way that all suppliers marketed their products. Unfortunately, the system software market includes quite a number of "street fighters" who rely on other tactics to get their messages across and that seems, for the moment anyway, to be winning.
If your organization is seeking a reliable, secure, scalable way to deliver applications and application services to client systems, it might be wise to look into Novell's OES 2 combined with Novell's ZENworks management software and its eDirectory services. Although Novell's customers often are quietly happy with Novell's products and don't wave the Novell flag at the end of every conversation, those customers I have spoken too love Novell and its products.