Is Novell too ambitious?

Can the networking giant deliver what it promises, and will anyone know it?

Novell plans to deliver several ambitious products and strategies by year-end. But it's very questionable whether the company's marketing staff can maintain Novell's momentum long enough to capitalize on these new efforts.

One source very close to the company's plans says there is a "crisis in marketing" at Novell, exacerbated by the recent executive departures of marketing director John Slitz and senior VP Chris Stone. And while the company's ratings with Wall Street firms remain mostly favorable, its stock price has been sliding of late.

Market analysts say Novell's messages are muddled. "Novell's the wiring in the wall at almost every enterprise, but they haven't succeeded in bringing this fact forward for many people," says Dan Kusnetzky, International Data's director of operating-environment research. "Until recently, Novell's marketing revolved around technology issues, but the decision makers increasingly are basing decisions on business -- something Microsoft's been able to forge its success on."

Marketing is not Novell's only challenge. Channel partners continue to question Novell's aggressive moves into consulting and services. Competing with its own channel partners "does much more damage to channel loyalty than anything Microsoft has tried," says one partner, who felt spurned when Novell consulting courted some of his customers.

Novell CEO Eric Schmidt has given the company's consulting group aggressive growth targets over the next several years. Novell came face-to-face with some of these issues earlier this month, when it rolled out digitalme, a "digital identity service" based on Novell Directory Services. And it will have to contend with all of these factors again in December, when it uncorks iChain, a concept it introduced at BrainShare last March for business-to-business e-commerce via XML. Next week, Novell will lay one piece of the iChain groundwork, when it introduces version 1.1 of its Internet Caching System (ICS), a server appliance for service providers that want to speed up Web page delivery.

Version 1.1 includes such features as support for network-address translation and Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol and some security enhancements. Novell also has opened applications programming interfaces to content distributors that basically build caching networks and sell cache services. Edgix and Akamai are two partners that will integrate their own technology with ICS as part of their services offerings. But which will do the marketing?