Novell fights back

Out-marketed...out-shipped, is there still life left in Novell? The company still sells upward of a million units each year and corporations are still paying top dollars for its certified engineers.

International Data Corp.'s oft-quoted analyst, Dan Kusnetzky, likes to invoke the Dilbert analogy when discussing Novell these days. He figures that if Dilbert ran the show, Novell might be in better shape.

The venerable company's flagship product, NetWare, remains highly regarded by the Dilbert types out there—the in-the-trenches network experts. However, good technology is no longer enough to win the hearts of the Dilberts' bosses, who make decisions based on a variety of factors such as what's being recommended, who's selling it and what the over-arching business goal should be.

Is there still life left in Novell? YES

While NetWare 5.1 and the forthcoming NetWare 6 are great products, Novell has failed to ward off the bundling and PR efforts of Microsoft and the relentless march of open source.

"So here's Novell," says Kusnetzky. "They're being outmarketed by Microsoft. They're being outshipped by both Microsoft and Linux. They're not bringing in as much operating system revenue as the Unix people or Microsoft. The perception is Novell is a dying platform and one should get off the boat quickly. But that just isn't true." Novell's recent $240 million stock deal to acquire Cambridge Technology Partners is an attempt to stanch NetWare's erosion.

Yes, Novell lost network operating system market share every year of the past five, dropping from 30 percent in 1996 to about 17 percent in 2000, according to IDC.

But the company—a victim of server consolidation—still sold upward of a million units each year. That means there's plenty of opportunity for Certified Novell Engineers (CNE) and the Novell partners that employ them.

Novell, and those that offer CNE training, say the degree is more comprehensive than its Microsoft counterpart, but no longer able to make its owner highly marketable.

"The Novell track requires certification in service and support, which is hardware-oriented and includes troubleshooting hardware systems—skills that, regardless of the platform that's running, are quickly needed and basically required, but are not taught in the Microsoft track," says Perry Turnbull, owner and manager of Information Technology Education Center.

Nevertheless, he says the school finds that 75 percent of its students want only Microsoft diplomas.

Lanop, another training center that offers the CNE certification, has this to say: "Although Bill Gates would like us to think otherwise, Novell is still at the core of virtually every major enterprise network in existence. ... Until Microsoft comes up with an operating system that does not 'hang' for mysterious reasons, the professional network managers will not be considering any changes to their 'core' network."

That means becoming a Certified Novell Engineer is still a good idea for those considering a career in IT.

An informal Sm@rt Partner survey found that CNEs earn between $40,000 and $100,000 annually, and are billed out at $50 per hour to $110 per hour.

Novell—a company that has shown the ability to roll with the punches—just might convince Dilbert's boss that its "One Net World" vision makes sense and that its products are cutting edge. Just realize that the Novell scroll is one of several certifications needed to effectively reign over today's networking jambalaya.

Smart Analysis
Last month, Novell reported a $7.8 million loss for its fiscal year's first quarter. Compare that to its first-quarter 2000 profit of $44.8 million and it might seem the CNE is a dinosaur certification with no future. Additionally, recruiters say they are hard-pressed to find jobs for CNEs unless they also have Cisco chops.

But Jim Greene—director of certification at Novell Education—expects the number of CNEs to grow 10 percent to 20 percent this year. Experts say Novell's big problem is misguided marketing and sales, not its technology. And they're guardedly optimistic that the company's NetWare 6, 64-bit Modesto, Internet caching efforts and general transition to a "Net services software company" will keep it a contender and keep CNEs in demand. Novell prides itself in an ability to change and stay alive, and its Internet-related efforts might do the trick.