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Novell's Web services strategy, part two

So can Novell succeed with Web services? In this column, we'll take a look at the company's long-range strategy and what analysts say about whether the company can make it.

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Continued from Part One

Novell and Web services
Novell, the networking giant best known for its Netware LAN operating system, is to a certain extent betting its future on Web services, offers a Web services line of products, and has put together a long-range strategy for how to handle Web services, as I explained in my previous column.

But if you're like most people, the name Novell doesn't come to mind when you think of Web services. So can Novell succeed? In this column, we'll take a look at the company's long-range strategy and what analysts say about whether the company can make it.

It's not your grandfather's Novell
Like many successful companies trying to venture into new territory, Novell to a certain extent has been victimized by its success. After all, Novell and Netware are practically synonymous. But as other networking technologies and protocols, notably TCP/IP, have become more popular, Netware carries with it the tinge of the past, not a vision of the future.

So Novell faces the difficult task of convincing people that it is attuned to the future and to the cutting edge of Web services, without repudiating its past. How to do it? The core of the strategy, is to convince people that "This is not your father's Novell — or your grandfather's Novell," according to Ashish Larivee Novell's director of product marketing and management for the exteNd technology group, its Web services arm.

Larivee needs to convince customers to use Novell's exteNd product line for Web services development. That line includes the exteNd Application Server, a J2EE-certified application server; exteNd Director, which lets you take existing web services or other applications and deliver them through a portal-based interface via Web services; and exteNd Composer, which lets you create and deploy Web services and XML-based integration applications and includes a range of "pluggable connectors" for EDI, ERP, mainframe and other applications.

A cornerstone of Novell's strategy will be to target existing customers to upgrade to exteNd. Larivee says that "A lot of customers want to use Netware as a deployment platform for Web service applications, and we ported our J2EE application server to run on Netware so Netware now ships with that application server." Additionally, Novell is trying to piggyback onto the success of its directory services and security products. So exteNd Director, for example, uses Novell eDirectory, Novell's directory service, to secure and manage portal resources. There will be other ties to directory and security products as well, particularly because those will become increasingly important for companies looking to deploy Web services.

But will it work?
All that is well and good in theory. But will it actually work? What do market-watchers and analysts have to say about the potential for Novell's success?

"The market is still so fragmented and wide open, that there's still plenty of time" for Novell to make its mark, believes Sophie Mayo, Director of the Web services implementation service for the research and consulting firm IDC. Even though Novell isn't recognized as a Web services market leader, as are companies like IBM, Microsoft, and BEA, that doesn't matter, because Web services is so new a technology that no permanent market leaders have emerged, and the market is "wide open," she says. "Novell has an interesting approach with its background in secure identity management and directories, and those are going to become increasingly important for Web services. So I think they probably have an advantage that they can exploit," she concludes.

In addition to that advantage, she says that Novell will benefit from its professional services consulting arm. When that arm recommend that a company use Web services technology, for example, they're likely to recommend using Novell products. Mayo says that currently, Web services engagements make up perhaps ten percent of Novell's consulting, but "that will increase over time as the focus on Web services increases over time." The end result — one more way for Novell to push its Web services product line.

Sandy Rogers, director of Web services and integration software for IDC, agrees that using Novell's directory and security products is an excellent way for Novell to extend into the Web services market — "it will provide huge traction," she says. Rogers notes that when IDC does developer surveys related to Web services, "Novell is not high on the mindshare list," and so the company still has a long way to go. But if Novell targets developers by doing things such as becoming more visible on standards-setting bodies, she believes, that will help. She also says, though, that the company needs to become more aggressive in promoting the exteNd product line.

Neil Macehiter, research director of the Ovum consulting group, says that Novell's challenge "is a marketing and sales question, not a technology question. It's about them being recognized" as having solid Web services technologies. Like other analysts, he says Novell's building on its security and directory heritage is a key to its success. But he adds that there are dangers ahead for the company. He notes that Novell is also making a big push into the Linux market, which could backfire.

"The issue for Novell is branding, credibility and name recognition, and they have to be careful not to confuse the market by making a big play for Linux and Web services at the same time. If they're rebranding themselves and putting out too many messages, that could confuse the market."

The key, most everyone agrees, is whether Novell can live down people's past associations with the company. In the words of Frank Dzubeck, President and CEO of Communications Network Architects, an analyst firm, "When most people think of Novell, they think of an island."

Web services, of course, are bridges, not islands. And so it remains to be seen whether Novell's rebranding and ties to its existing technologies will be seen as a bridge to the future, or instead a tie to the past. And that will be the key to whether the company succeeds with its Web services strategy.

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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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