Novell bets big on Java

Novell next week will try once again to convince its customers that NetWare has what it takes to be a full-blown application server and Web development environment.

One year after making his first appearance as Novell's CEO, Eric Schmidt will take the stage at the company's BrainShare conference in Salt Lake City to unveil his vision for making NetWare a robust platform for hosting mission-critical applications and managing heterogeneous networks.

Key to Novell's strategy are last-minute enhancements to NetWare 5.0, which is scheduled to ship by midyear. One addition is component software licensed from WebLogic for making Windows NT network services such as the Active Directory slated for NT 5.0, available on a Java-enabled NetWare network.

Equally important to corporate customers with heavy investments in NetWare will be Novell's plans for phasing out its proprietary NLM (NetWare Loadable Module) development scheme in favour of platform-independent, Java-based applications.

Also critical is Novell's road map for delivering a 64-bit version of NetWare for the Intel IA-64 Merced processor. Novell's futuristic 64-bit upgrade will feature a completely rewritten kernel and a portable abstraction layer for migrating existing 32-bit network services such as NDS (Novell Directory Services) to any Merced operating system.

Novell's challenge is to convince corporate customers that NetWare is more than just a platform for file, print and directory services. Even some customers who plan to migrate to NetWare 5.0 don't see the upgrade as a platform for mission-critical applications.

"We're focusing on an IP-only network, and [upgrading to NetWare 5.0] is required," said Brian Bertlin, IS director for Morrison Knudsen in the US. "[But] we would only consider using NetWare 5.0 as an e-mail server for GroupWise. NetWare was never designed to be an application server, whereas NT was."

Novell hopes its Java-based strategy will end those perceptions. WebLogic's Tengah COM Integration software, due to be announced at the JavaOne conference next week in San Francisco, will enable NetWare 5.0 or any other Java-enabled server to host NT services, according to WebLogic officials in San Francisco.

For some NetWare developers, the transition to a Java-based development environment promises fewer headaches. "As long as Novell can overcome [Java] performance issues, we view Novell's Java strategy as a positive one," said NetWare 5.0 beta tester Mark Krudwig, senior systems analyst at the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. "Developing NLMs has always been something of a black art."

But Novell still needs to forge better relationships with key ISVs. At present, Oracle and Sybase are the only database vendors that support NetWare.

To link to other databases, Novell this week licensed B2Systems' SQL Integrator, which will provide a common "join" engine for a number of third-party database products.

Next week, Novell is expected to shed more light on a development alliance it announced with Oracle at last year's BrainShare. The alliance called for the two companies to collaborate on a suite of Web-based applications for NetWare 5.0.

Oracle also announced last year it would integrate NDS with Oracle8 on other platforms-including Solaris, HP-UX and RS/6000. But the company has yet to deliver on that promise.

Novell's strategy to make NetWare an environment for hosting Java applications helps minimise the company's dependency on getting ISVs to develop applications specifically for NetWare. But the strategy also poses new challenges.

"Java is a double-edged sword," said Neil MacDonald, an analyst for the Gartner Group. "It means a lot more applications will run on NetWare, but those same apps will also be available on NT and other platforms. Novell will have to prove somehow that NetWare is better."