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Digesting Novell financials

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It's a perennial question, "why would anyone use Novell any more?" Typically coming from people who only know Novell as "That NetWare company," or perhaps, "the company that we replaced with Exchange." These are the same people who are convinced Novell is a dying company who just doesn't know it yet.

Yeah, well. Wrong. Novell managed to turn the corner and wean themselves off of the NetWare cash-cow. Take the last quarterly statement, which you can read in full glory here. I'm going to excerpt some bits, but it'll get long. First off, their description of their market segments. I'll try to include relevant products where I know them.

We are organized into four business unit segments, which are Open Platform Solutions, Identity and Security Management, Systems and Resource Management, and Workgroup. Below is a brief update on the revenue results for the second quarter and first six months of fiscal 2009 for each of our business unit segments:



Within our Open Platform Solutions business unit segment, Linux and open source products remain an important growth business. We are using our Open Platform Solutions business segment as a platform for acquiring new customers to which we can sell our other complementary cross-platform identity and management products and services. Revenue from our Linux Platform Products category within our Open Platform Solutions business unit segment increased 25% in the second quarter of fiscal 2009 compared to the prior year period. This product revenue increase was partially offset by lower services revenue of 11%, such that total revenue from our Open Platform Solutions business unit segment increased 18% in the second quarter of fiscal 2009 compared to the prior year period.

Revenue from our Linux Platform Products category within our Open Platform Solutions business unit segment increased 24% in the first six months of fiscal 2009 compared to the prior year period. This product revenue increase was partially offset by lower services revenue of 17%, such that total revenue from our Open Platform Solutions business unit segment increased 15% in the first six months of fiscal 2009 compared to the prior year period.

[sysadmin1138: Products include: SLES/SLED]



Our Identity and Security Management business unit segment offers products that we believe deliver a complete, integrated solution in the areas of security, compliance, and governance issues. Within this segment, revenue from our Identity, Access and Compliance Management products increased 2% in the second quarter of fiscal 2009 compared to the prior year period. In addition, services revenue was lower by 45%, such that total revenue from our Identity and Security Management business unit segment decreased 16% in the second quarter of fiscal 2009 compared to the prior year period.

Revenue from our Identity, Access and Compliance Management products decreased 3% in the first six months of fiscal 2009 compared to the prior year period. In addition, services revenue was lower by 40%, such that total revenue from our Identity and Security Management business unit segment decreased 18% in the first six months of fiscal 2009 compared to the prior year period.

[sysadmin1138: Products include: IDM, Sentinal, ZenNAC, ZenEndPointSecurity]



Our Systems and Resource Management business unit segment strategy is to provide a complete “desktop to data center” offering, with virtualization for both Linux and mixed-source environments. Systems and Resource Management product revenue decreased 2% in the second quarter of fiscal 2009 compared to the prior year period. In addition, services revenue was lower by 10%, such that total revenue from our Systems and Resource Management business unit segment decreased 3% in the second quarter of fiscal 2009 compared to the prior year period. In the second quarter of fiscal 2009, total business unit segment revenue was higher by 8%, compared to the prior year period, as a result of our acquisitions of Managed Object Solutions, Inc. (“Managed Objects”) which we acquired on November 13, 2008 and PlateSpin Ltd. (“PlateSpin”) which we acquired on March 26, 2008.

Systems and Resource Management product revenue increased 3% in the first six months of fiscal 2009 compared to the prior year period. The total product revenue increase was partially offset by lower services revenue of 14% in the first six months of fiscal 2009 compared to the prior year period. Total revenue from our Systems and Resource Management business unit segment increased 1% in the first six months of fiscal 2009 compared to the prior year period. In the first six months of fiscal 2009 total business unit segment revenue was higher by 12% compared to the prior year period as a result of our Managed Objects and PlateSpin acquisitions.

[sysadmin1138: Products include: The rest of the ZEN suite, PlateSpin]



Our Workgroup business unit segment is an important source of cash flow and provides us with the potential opportunity to sell additional products and services. Our revenue from Workgroup products decreased 14% in the second quarter of fiscal 2009 compared to the prior year period. In addition, services revenue was lower by 39%, such that total revenue from our Workgroup business unit segment decreased 17% in the second quarter of fiscal 2009 compared to the prior year period.

Our revenue from Workgroup products decreased 12% in the first six months of fiscal 2009 compared to the prior year period. In addition, services revenue was lower by 39%, such that total revenue from our Workgroup business unit segment decreased 15% in the first six months of fiscal 2009 compared to the prior year period.

[sysadmin1138: Products include: Open Enterprise Server, GroupWise, Novell Teaming+Conferencing,

The reduction in 'services' revenue is, I believe, a reflection in a decreased willingness for companies to pay Novell for consulting services. Also, Novell has changed how they advertise their consulting services which seems to also have had an impact. That's the economy for you. The raw numbers:


Three months ended


April 30, 2009

April 30, 2008

(In thousands)


Net revenue
Gross
profit


Operating
income (loss)


Net revenue
Gross
profit


Operating
income (loss)

Open Platform Solutions


$ 44,112
$ 34,756

$ 21,451

$ 37,516
$ 26,702

$ 12,191

Identity and Security Management



38,846

27,559


18,306


46,299

24,226


12,920

Systems and Resource Management



45,354

37,522


26,562


46,769

39,356


30,503

Workgroup



87,283

73,882


65,137


105,082

87,101


77,849

Common unallocated operating costs





(3,406 )

(113,832 )



(2,186 )

(131,796 )























Total per statements of operations


$ 215,595
$ 170,313

$ 17,624

$ 235,666
$ 175,199

$ 1,667



























Six months ended


April 30, 2009

April 30, 2008

(In thousands)


Net revenue
Gross
profit


Operating
income (loss)


Net revenue
Gross
profit


Operating
income (loss)

Open Platform Solutions


$ 85,574
$ 68,525

$ 40,921

$ 74,315
$ 52,491

$ 24,059

Identity and Security Management



76,832

52,951


35,362


93,329

52,081


29,316

Systems and Resource Management



90,757

74,789


52,490


90,108

74,847


58,176

Workgroup



177,303

149,093


131,435


208,840

173,440


155,655

Common unallocated operating costs





(7,071 )

(228,940 )



(4,675 )

(257,058 )























Total per statements of operations


$ 430,466
$ 338,287

$ 31,268

$ 466,592
$ 348,184

$ 10,148

So, yes. Novell is making money, even in this economy. Not lots, but at least they're in the black. Their biggest growth area is Linux, which is making up for deficits in other areas of the company. Especially the sinking 'Workgroup' area. Once upon a time, "Workgroup," constituted over 90% of Novell revenue.
Revenue from our Workgroup segment decreased in the first six months of fiscal 2009 compared to the prior year period primarily from lower combined OES and NetWare-related revenue of $13.7 million, lower services revenue of $10.5 million and lower Collaboration product revenue of $6.3 million. Invoicing for the combined OES and NetWare-related products decreased 25% in the first six months of fiscal 2009 compared to the prior year period. Product invoicing for the Workgroup segment decreased 21% in the first six months of fiscal 2009 compared to the prior year period.
Which is to say, companies dropping OES/NetWare constituted the large majority of the losses in the Workgroup segment. Yet that loss was almost wholly made up by gains in other areas. So yes, Novell has turned the corner.

Another thing to note in the section about Linux:
The invoicing decrease in the first six months of 2009 reflects the results of the first quarter of fiscal 2009 when we did not sign any large deals, many of which have historically been fulfilled by SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (“SLES”) certificates delivered through Microsoft.
Which is pretty clear evidence that Microsoft is driving a lot of Novell's Operating System sales these days. That's quite a reversal, and a sign that Microsoft is officially more comfortable with this Linux thing.

Zen Asset Inventory

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A while back we installed Zen Asset Inventory (but not Asset Management) since it came with our Novell bundle, and inventory is a nice thing to have. At the beginning of this quarter it started to crash while inventorying certain workstations. After sending the logs to Novell, it turned out to be crashing on a lot of workstations.

Novell said that the reason for the crashes was excessive duplicate workstations. ZAM is supposed to handle this, but it seems 2 years of quarterly lab reimaging seems to have finally overwhelmed the de-dup process. The fix is fairly straight forward, but very labor intensive:
  1. Clean out the Zenworks database
  2. Force a WorkstationOID change on all workstations
The second took quite a while. Those steps are:
  1. Stop the Collection Client service
  2. Delete a specific registry key
  3. Start the Collection Client service
These three steps can be done by way of Powershell (or the 'pstools' suite of command-line utilities if you want to rock it old school). One at a time. As we have on the order of 3,700 workstations, this took a few days and I'm sure I missed some. I did get all of the lab machines, though. That's important.

Cleaning out the database proved to be more complicated than I thought. At first I thought I just had to delete all the workstations from the Manager tool. But that would be wrong. Actually looking at the database tables showed a LOT of data in a supposedly clean database.

The very first thing I tried was to remove all the workstations from the database by way of the manager, and restart inventory. The theory here is that this would eliminate all the duplicate entries, so we'd just start the clock ticking again until the imaging caught us out. Since I had modified our imaging procedures, this shouldn't happen again any way. Tada!

Only the inventory process started crashing. Crap.

The second thing I tried was to strobe through the Lab workstations with the WorkstationOID-reset script I worked up in PowerShell (this is not something I could have done without an Active Directory domain, by the way). These are the stations with the most images, and getting them reset should clear the problem. Couple that with a clearing of the database by way of the Manager, and we should be good!

Only the inventory process started crashing. It took a bit longer, but it still crashed pretty quickly.

Try number three... run the powershell script across the ENTIRE DOMAIN. This took close to four days. Empty the database via Manager again, restart.

It crashed. It took until the second day to crash, but it still crashed.

As I had reset the WorkstationOID on all domained machines (or at least a very large percentage of them), the remaining dups were probably in the non-domained labs I have no control over. So why the heck was I still getting duplication problems with a supposedly clean database? So I went into SQL Studio to look at the database tables themselves. The NC_Workstation table itself had over 15,000 workstations in it. Whaaa?

However, this would explain the duplication problems I'd been having! If it had been doing the de-dup processing on historical data that included a freighter full of duplicates already, it was going to crash. Riiiiight. So. How do I clean out the tables? Due to foreign key references and full tables elsewhere, I had to build a script that would purge leaf tables, then core tables. The leaf tables (things like NC_BIOS) could be Truncated, handy when a table contains over a million rows. Core tables (NC_Component) have to be deleted line-by-line, which for the 2.7 million row NC_Component table took close to 24 hours to fully delete and reindex.

With a squeaky clean database, and the large majority of WorkstationOID values reset enterprise wide, I have restarted the inventory process. The Zenworks database is growing at a great pace as the Component tables repopulate. This morning we have 3,750 workstations and growing. We inventoried close to 3,300 stations yesterday and didn't get a single inventory crash. This MAY have fixed it!

I'm keeping these SQL scripts for later use if I need 'em.

They key learning here? Removing the workstations from the Manager doesn't actually purge the workstation from the database itself.

BrainShare Thursday

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Not a good day. My first course, "Advanced BASH," could more accurately be described as, "BASH scripting tips & tricks". I then proceeded to skip the other three sessions I had signed up for.
  • Novell Open Enterprise Server 2 Interoperability with Windows and AD. All about Domain Services for Windows and Samba. Neither of which we'll ever use. No idea why I wanted to be in this session.
  • Rapid Deployment of ZENworks Configuration Management. Other people around here have suggested that if we haven't moved yet, wait until at least SP3 before moving. If then. So, demotivated. Plus I was rather tired.
  • Configuring Samba on OES2. CIFS will do what we need, I don't need Samba. Don't need this one. Skipped.
DL236: Advanced BASH Course
BASH tips and tricks. I got a lot out of it, but the developers around me were quietly derisive.

ZEN Overview and Features
Not so much with the futures, but it did explain Novell's overall ZEN strategy. It isn't a coincidence that most of Novell's recent purchases have been for ZEN products.

TUT303: OES2 Clusters, from beginning to extremes
This was great. They had a full demo rig, and they showed quite a bit in it. Including using Novell Cluster Services to migrate Xen VM's around. They STRONGLY recommended using AutoYast to set up your cluster nodes to ensure they are simply identical except for the bits you explicitly want different (hostname, IP). And also something else I've heard before, you want one LUN for each NSS Pool. Really. Plus, the presenters were rather funny. A nice cap for the day.

And tonight, Meet the Experts!

ZenCM (a.k.a. Zen 10)

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We're taking a look at ZenCM right now, as it's the Zen that supports Vista. I saw quite a lot about it back at Brainshare, so I have some expectations. Now that it is out, there is a manual out. We like manuals. They tell us what to expect.

Some quick hits on differences that'll cause us to do things differently from previous Zen versions:
  • No NetWare support, so we'll need at least one new server to drive this thing.
  • Application deployment won't work with NetWare as a file source, so all those MSI's will have to be hosted on Windows somewhere (no Linux support yet, though that's probably SP1 stuff).
  • Inventory has been rolled into the central product, so no need for a separate Inventory server like the past (the past product was the Inventory side of Zen Asset Management. ZAM now is just Asset Management).
  • No AXT-based installs, just MSI and Simple Application.
  • The MSI installs will FORCE us to start looking at ApplicationStudio, whether we like it or not.
  • Introduces a single point of failure for Zen policy, as it no longer uses eDir for a policy repository, and instead uses the ZenCM server. Which in our case will be a single server, as we're not $$$ enough for two, nor do our users segregate into large chunks well.
Yeah. We've done just a weensyiest bit of application packaging. We have zero experience with this internally. I predict that this will be THE major stumbling block with the new architecture. Yes, I know, the whole bloody industry is moving to MSI based installs but that doesn't mean we've been keeping up. We haven't. I have a buddy who works full time as an application install writer, so I know how complex it can get. This is a skillset that large organizations really need, and we really don't have it.

There is also internal disgruntlement about the abandonment of edir as the policy repository, but I understand the sound business reasons for it. The loss of the ability to have NetWare be the file-source for application installs is also something that is causing grumbling, as that's the infrastructure that's well built for large scale deployments. The fact that we need yet another server for this is also causing grumbling, though in the end we'll be using the server that was slated to be the real server for the Zen Asset Inventory, as its beefy enough to handle it (we think).

And then the imaging question... we've not been using Zen's imaging because we've been using another product. However, that other product plays hobb with Workstation Import, and from the sounds of it that'll still be a problem with ZenCM. So, no device-based policies for us.

All in all, we'll end up going with it because 1) it's free to us, and 2) we've always been using it. That said, there will be a push to use the built-in AD tools as they are perceived to be less clunky. No agent to install, that sort of thing.

New Novell releases

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Looks like Novell pushed several products out the door late Friday:
No OES2. No Client for Vista. But SP1 gets me closer to where I need to be.

NCL 2.0 is interesting since the current version is v1.2. The full rev of the version suggests that they made marked improvements to it. I have noticed that they offer both 32bit and 64 bit versions of the client, which I don't think 1.2 had.

ZEN Pulsar has a name

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http://www.novell.com/coolblogs/?p=792

and

http://www.novell.com/news/press/item.jsp?id=1306

It is, wait for it...

Novell ZENworks Configuration Management!

One nifty feature, long rumored:
With native integration for both Microsoft* Active Directory* and Novell® eDirectoryTM
I've heard that ZEN Pulsar would have its own internal database for things like application objects and images. I guessed this was due to eventual AD support, but, hey, there it is!

We'll hear a lot more about it next week at BrainShare, I'm sure. One thing is clear, and that's this version of Zen is Windows-desktop only for the time being. Linux will come later, again we'll learn more next week. ZEN Asset Management is still a different product, as is Patch Management. No surprise there, as both products are repackaged third-party apps.

Zen asset inventory

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We're in the process of rolling out Zen Asset Inventory 7.5. It's going OK, about 600 workstations imported so far. The Collection Server is a 4 proc box, and was quite busy this morning. Once all 2000-odd workstations get in, it's going to be busy a lot more often. We're most likely getting a new server for that role at some point. This is the only CPU-bound product I've seen in a while! Pretty much everything else we run is I/O bound in some way. Kinda nifty.

Which also means that this is not a very virtualization-friendly product. This'll be running bare-iron, thank you.

Novell Open Audio: Zen for Vista

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Novell Open Audio (podcasts) had a session on Zen and Vista. Here are the main points I got out of it.
  • DLU on Vista will work within the Novell client
    • 32 & 64bit
    • Will use the Common Authentication Service to tie into auth.
  • Client will still allow 'admin' level access for installing software while user remains general.
  • NAL window & on desktop still supported
  • Will have native MSI support only, and getting rid of 'snapshot' methods.
    • MSI is defacto standard, and all Vista software comes via MSI
    • MSI packaging products still in Zen
    • Conversion tools to migrate snapshot Apps to MSI Apps
    • Simple changes (reg keys, short cuts, file edits) still there, just no AXT support
  • Vista by necessity introduces a very different Zen architecture. Still WinXP/2K compatible, though.
  • Can run as a separate environment from Zen 7. This facilitates migration.
  • Separate directory store for Zen stuff. Uses eDir for associations and the like. Application Object storage will be outside of eDir.
  • Brainshare: Wednesday keynote will be big Zen demo.
There you are.

An incompatibility

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I've been working on Zen Asset Management 7.5 the past few days. In the process I discovered a rather significant incompatibility with the client. Well, significant for me since it'll make client testing harder.

When run on a Windows XP virtual machine running on Xen 3.0.3 that comes with openSUSE 10.2, it causes the clock in the VM to slow w-a-y down. On the order of 1 tick per 30 ticks on the host machine slow. This makes it unusable in a rather significant way.

It also is completely unfixable! Running Windows in a full VM in Xen on openSUSE 10.2 is an unsupported operation. I have the CPU for it, and it runs pretty well in every other way. But something the inventory process does causes some Xen emulation to go 'poink' in a bad way. It is so bad that even after the VM is powered off and the BIOS is putting the virtual machine to rest, it STILL takes a very long time for the VM to unload. No idea where to report this one.

In general, the product looks interesting. Getting it rolled out everywhere will take a lot of work. Plus, for some reason it isn't accepting my license code. But that's something that can be fixed with a call in to Novell.

Busy week

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Last week was interesting. I spent most of it hacking on the new spam appliances. Then we had another virus outbreak. A bad one. For a first-hand view of what happened read this. Due to a vacation on Friday, I wasn't directly involved in this one to any significant degree. Normally, ferreting out root-kits is right up my alley. Instead, I was have routine maintenance performed on certain small animals in my house.

As this is the second incident of a Symantec worm, it makes it especially galling. The machines that got infected were all ones that got missed during the last post-worm remediation. Unfortunately, certain computer labs did not have the new AV software updated on their images so they'll be vulnerable for a while; revising the lab image during session is apparently a major undertaking. I have been tasked with assessing with an assumption of eventually installing Zen Asset Management in an effort to allow us to identify 'non-compliant' machines when something like this happens in the future.

The go-ahead decision rests with the Vice Provost, which itself should provide an interesting insight into the new guy. This isn't the first time an inventory solution has been proposed. The previous Vice Provost had a low tolerance for back-talk from the Deans, so if enough Deans complained about the new whatever-it-is he usually backed down from supporting it. From the sounds of it, the new Vice Provost wants this capability quite badly, so we shall see how the cards fall.

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