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Novell's Web services strategy

We look at Novell's Web services product line, and how the company got where it is today with regard to Web services.

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Novell and Web services
When you think of Web services, you most likely don't think of the networking company Novell. Yet the Utah-based company, which built its fortune and reputation on selling networking products, is, to a certain extent, betting its future on Web services, and has a solid line of Web services-related products, as well as an ongoing strategy for becoming a Web services player.

In this first part of a two-part column, we'll look at Novell's Web services product line, and how the company got where it is today with regard to Web services. In the next column, we'll look at its ongoing strategy, and what analysts say about the company's ability to become a major Web services vendor.

It all started with networking
If there's a company that you would have expected to be in the forefront of the Web services revolution, it would have been Novell. After all, this is a corporation that made its name and money via its networking technology — and networks are at the heart of Web services. Novell pioneered the LAN back in the early 1980s with its NetWare LAN software, which ultimately became, in essence, the corporate networking standard, so that by the early 1990s it had a nearly 70 percent market share in corporate networking, according to the company Web site.

But until a little over a year ago, Web services wasn't apparently on the company's radar. It wasn't seen as being in the forefront of Web services standards-setting bodies, and it did not have a Web services product line. In short, it was hardly seen in the Web services universe.

That changed in July, 2002 when Novell bought the Web services vendor SilverStream Software. Today, the company's Web services product line, and its strategy for the future, is built around the products acquired when Novell bought the company.

The exteNd product line
Novell's Web services product line is known as exteNd, and that product line is essentially the same one that it bought when it purchased Silver Stream. (For details about exteNd, go to https://www.netiq.com/support/ and http://www.novell.com/solutions/extend/. Ashish Larivee came over to the company from Silver Stream, and she's now Novell's director of product marketing and management for the exteNd technology group. At the core of the problem addresses by the exteNd line, she says, is the need to integrate different applications throughout an enterprise, and to integrate them with "silo" and legacy systems. The product line "includes an XML integration server and we make it easy to integrate legacy systems with visual interfaces. So you can use drag and drop to map input and output data, backend systems, and how to deliver it all — and to deliver it using Web services standards."

Additionally, a "process engine" can orchestrate the integrated services into a business process. So for example, "if you want to build a purchase order system, you can integrate all the different components and systems, such as checking inventory levels, and you can string these independent services together into a process using a visual interface, and band them together using Web services." Key to the product line, she says, is the easy with which applications can be built and integrated, using a set of visual tools.

Specifically, the exteNd product line is made up of these components:

  • exteNd Director This lets you take existing web services or other applications and deliver them through a portal-based interface via Web services. It uses Novell eDirectory, Novell's directory service, to secure and manage portal resources.
  • exteNd Composer This integration product lets you create and deploy Web services and XML-based integration applications, essentially allowing you to take existing applications and turn them into reusable, Web-based application components. It includes a range of "pluggable connectors" for EDI, ERP, mainframe and other applications.
  • exteNd Application Server This is a J2EE-certified application server includes command line and graphical tools, and Integrated Development Environment (IDE) integration.

Version 5 of the suite of products will be out shortly. Larivee says that the new version will include ways to build applications entirely with visual tools, and the ability to "build an entire user interface and deliver it to the user without having to write code." It will support Linux as well.

What the analysts say
All this sounds well and good. But how real is the Novell commitment to Web services — and will the company be involved with Web services for the long haul? Many analysts agree that the company will become increasingly important Web services vendor, and that they should be a long-term presence in the market.

"They do have quite a compelling story," says Neil Macehiter, research director of the Ovum consulting group. "They committed to it for the long term, they didn't just jump on the bandwagon, and they made a significant acquisition to address the market…Novell is an interesting player to watch, particularly because of the security background that they've got."

Sandy Rogers, director of Web services and integration software for IDC, concurs.

"They made a lot of hay when they bought SilverStream," she says. "It was well-positioned as a Web services company."

Frank Dzubeck, President and CEO of Communications Network Architects, an analyst firm, isn't quite as convinced that the company will be able to succeed.

"They can't succeed at all unless they embrace the reality of how the industry has changed," he says. "They have to change along with it, and it's not clear yet if they'll be able to do it."

Will they make it — and what is the company's strategy for becoming a larger player in the Web services world? That's what we'll look at in my next column.

Continues in Part Two

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About the Author

Preston Gralla, a well-known technology expert, is the author of more than 20 books, including "How the Internet Works," which has been translated into 14 languages and sold several hundred thousand copies worldwide. He is an expert on Web services and the author of a major research and white paper for the Software and Information Industry Association on the topic. Gralla was the founding managing editor of PC Week, a founding editor and then editor and editorial director of PC/Computing, and an executive editor for ZDNet and CNet. He has written about technology for more than 15 years for many major magazines and newspapers, including PC Magazine, Computerworld, CIO Magazine, eWeek and its forerunner PC Week, PC/Computing, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Dallas Morning News among others. As a well-known technology guru, he appears frequently on TV and radio shows and networks, including CNN, MSNBC, ABC World News Now, the CBS Early Show, PBS's All Things Considered and others. He has won a number of awards for his writing, including from the Computer Press Association for the Best Feature in a Computer Publication. He can be reached at preston@gralla.com.

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