The NetWare faithful will gather in Salt Lake City this week for a critical Brainshare user conference. Novell needs to prove its core Novell Directory Services (NDS) technology can coexist with Microsoft's Active Directory and that Novell can offer services on top of NDS that guarantee future growth.
In February, the company formulated this growth strategy by repositioning itself as a provider of "Net Services" -- platform-independent, directory-enabled offerings for internet, intranet and extranet environments.
It also announced iChain, a Net Service that will use NDS as a platform for electronic business, and two new systems management tools, ZENworks for Networks and ZENworks for Servers. Also, the company shipped versions of its NDS eDirectory, the latest release of NDS, that run on Windows 2000 and Linux.
Rocco Esposito, information technology director at window-shade maker Hunter Douglas in Colorado, said NDS is what makes him stick with Novell. "I want to have a single directory with single sign-on," said Esposito. "I'd like to see everything directory-enabled." But while Esposito prefers NDS, he said he fears that "if third-party developers start to develop to Active Directory natively, Novell has trouble".
A Computerworld survey indicates that Active Directory will coexist with NDS in the majority of NetWare sites. Neil MacDonald, a vice president and research director at GartnerGroup, said NDS customers will have little choice, since applications like Exchange 2000 will require Active Directory. Sessions about Novell's upcoming DirXML directory synchronisation tool, which is due mid-year, are expected to be heavily attended at Brainshare.
"They need to demonstrate that they are going to coexist with Active Directory," said Lee Roth, LAN and security services manager at Southwest Airlines in Dallas. Southwest is building a security infrastructure on top of NDS and intends to use NDS as the focal point for a range of new applications. But like most NetWare sites, Southwest is using Windows NT for application servers and is looking at Windows 2000.
Another threat to NDS is that directories are becoming a commodity. Novell needs to come up with more NDS-based services like ZENworks, and they need to work well in Microsoft-centric environments, said David Cearley, a senior vice president at Meta Group in Connecticut. "Make no mistake: ZENworks saved Novell from oblivion," Cearley said.
Brainshare attendees have expressed great interest in NetWare-based server appliances, such as the successful Internet Cashing System appliances currently sold by most of the leading PC vendors. MacDonald said he sees embedded systems as Novell's best chance of selling NetWare outside its installed base.
Some analysts said they hope that Novell will announce a bold move at Brainshare, such as making NDS a free, open-source product -- a move most deem unlikely. However, Novell may well come out with a stronger endorsement of Linux. "The Linux space is still pretty open," said Phil Schacter, director of network strategy at the The Burton Group in Utah. He said Novell could become a leading provider of Linux applications.