Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Opinion: The Future of Novell
Novell is facing a problem right now. The market has several demands that they are having trouble meeting.
- Server Consolidation. Every manager desires fewer servers since fewer servers mean reduced costs.
- General Purpose Computing. A side-effect of the first point, servers need to be able to multi-task.
- Reducing the number of operating systems being supported. A form of 'consolidation' but for OS instead of hardware servers.
NetWare fails two of the three conditions. As a file-and-print server, NetWare allows consolidation to a very high level. As a general purpose computer, it is an iffy web-server and is a challenging environment to develop applications for. As for reducing the number of OSes used, NetWare is a speciality OS with delusions of application-serverness. Therefore Novell needs to revamp NetWare to meet market demands.
As one BrainShare attendee said he heard from a Novell employee, NetWare 8 and NetWare 9 were scheduled to have the same features linux has today. Novell made the hard choice to not try and shim a complex thread model, memory protection, process separation, and robust virtual memory into NetWare and instead try to shim NetWare-quality file-and-print serving into Linux. Technically, it was the easier of the two tasks. And rather than have a market-competetive OS in 5-7 years, they could have one in 2-4. That attempt is Open Enterprise Server - Linux.
OES-Linux file-and-print serving is not quite at the level NetWare is today in terms of stability. It is there for performance; and as I showed, it already exceeds NetWare performance. Stability has improved markedly from First-Customer-Ship, to SP1, to SP2. Version 2 next year will bring even more stability improvements. With OES-Linux being able to support 64-bit computing and NetWare not able to, even more performance gains can be had.
In my opinion, sometime in the next 12-18 months OES-Linux file-and-print serving will surpass OES-NW in both stability and performance.
OES-Linux already turns in faster NCP performance than NetWare does. This is due to two reasons. First, when they ported the NCP code over to Linux they dropped all reference to IPX. Second, during the port they dropped all the depreciated NCP calls. These two improvements provided enough of a speed boost for NCP-on-Linux to outperform NCP-on-NetWare, the native platform. What's more, NCP-on-Linux stands up to just as much concurrent usage as NCP-on-NetWare does; a very critical thing in the WWU environment where the WUF servers frequently have >5000 connections on them.
Now for the bad news.
Unfortunately, Novell has clearly and unambiguously signaled to long-time NetWare shops that the platform they know and love is dead. To further the misfortune, the alternative (OES-Linux) isn't quite there yet in terms of stability. IT managers are facing a migration event, and as I predicted a majority of them are going with the default choice, Windows. To fight this Novell is trying to demonstrate that moving to OES-Linux is mostly painless as a way to stop the flight.
Unfortunately for Novell, once a shop is considering a migration, market bias forces that shop to justify why they are NOT going with a Windows environment (see migration threshold). To make the leap from NetWare (a.k.a. OES-NW) to Linux (a.k.a. OES-Linux) IT Managers have to have solid reasons why they are going with Linux instead of Windows. IT Managers who don't have a clear vision will end up on Windows by default, no matter what Novell (or their IT techs) do or say.
Financially, Novell is in good shape (1st Qtr 2006). They have very little debt, and have a lot of cash. This is a good place to be when faced with losing quite a bit of OS revenue, which they will. Combined, GroupWise and Identity Management product provide about as much income as their OS revenue which combines both NetWare and Linux sources. Foreign income is greater than US income, which is good since SUSE is the #1 Linux distribution in both China and Europe.
By taking the course they have with NetWare, they're going to face some punishing quarters for the next two years as a majority of the former NetWare shops jump ship to Windows. Offsetting that loss will be an increase in Linux sales, but I do not expect that to fully replace the lost NetWare income for several years. Novell has chosen a few punishing quarters over the slow leak they would have had otherwise had they continued to prop up NetWare.
If OES-Linux really were as stable and fast as OES-NW, we wouldn't be facing this problem. But that 12-18 month lead to get there will kill NetWare license renewals. Novell will still be around in 10 years, I have no fear of that. I also have no fear of Novell dropping OES-Linux anytime in the next 5 years. The one thing that may survive to eventually be incoroprated into the greater Linux world is the NSS file-system and its rich trustee system. Other then that, NCP-shops will very likely be scarce on the ground in 2011. They'll all be running whatever version of Samba is around in 2011, which by then will be robust enough to do what NCP can do right now.
Tags: novell, brainshare