Select Partners Making Most of Novell Opportunity


But Microsoft, end user perceptions and market upheaval still pose challenges


After Andy Olson sold his general-purpose, Seattle-based IT solutions integration business one year ago, he wanted to create a new and more specialized IT solution provider company focused on what he is convinced is the hottest thing around. Nope, not Windows XP, which was developed by some of his neighbors in nearby Redmond, Wash., or CRM, or wireless, or storage or security. Instead of these popular options, Olson jumped on directory software from Novell.

Surprised? Don't be. Like a lot of IT product and service specialists, Olson, owner of the Columbia Group, is putting a great deal of faith in Novell these days. Yes, that Novell, the Provo, Utah-based company that was once the leader in LANs and, more recently, one of several Internet software wanabees.

Based on what he's seen from its new management team and new technology portfolio, Olson is glad he made the decision he did, though he worries that the company's once vaunted education and certification programs will cease to have impact unless they get renewed attention from Novell.

Like other business partners whose fortunes are tied to the success of Novell, Olson is on hand here in La Quinta, Calif., for the company's annual partner summit. At this year's event, Novell is unveiling the latest changes to its PartnerNet business program for third parties, IT consultants, solution providers and VAR organizations. Among other things, PartnerNet 2002 includes a new Platinum Integrator program for service-focused integration companies, a return to certification requirements for partners, an increase in the amount of technical support provided to partners and a reduction in basic PartnerNet program enrollment fees.

More than mere programmatic changes, Olson and others are here to get a better sense of management's commitment to them and their cause. So far, partners are impressed that so many of Novell's top executives, including CEO Jack Messman, are on hand.

More than glad-handing, however, partners have pressing concerns foremost on their mind. Some, including one Compaq enterprise technician and storage evangelist in attendance, says he's here to learn more about new Novell technology. He, for one, is interested in learning about forthcoming hooks into Novell's software that could make it easier for his company to offer greater security for Fibre Channel customers.

Others, including James Magrish, a salesman with Cincinnati-based Premier Network Solutions, are eager to learn more about how their companies can work with Novell's Cambridge Technology Partners business unit in the field. The market for Novell solutions, Magrish believes, has solidified after a period of deterioration. If it takes off as Novell hopes, having Novell expertise could yet again become an important diffentiator for business partners.

While mostly anecdotal, more than a few partners believe they are in a position to win again with Novell.

"We're winning business with Novell," says Angela Lehmann, director of strategic business at Goliath Networks.

Lehmann, in particular, epitomizes a new breed of Novell fans. Unapologetic about her support of Novell for specific solutions, Lehmann has challenged more than one customer about ripping out Novell solutions to go with an all Microsoft infrastructure. In one instance, she told a customer planning to make such a move, "If all goes perfectly well, you gain nothing. Moreover, you risk your entire operation's uptime if there's even one single glitch."

Though relatively small in number when compared to the onslaught of individuals pushing Microsoft software, Novell followers here nonetheless represent a great deal of collective market clout, something not lost on Messman. Casting his eyes on almost 200 partners in attendance here at a gathering Monday night, Messman noted, "We've made progress, sure, but more--much more--needs to be done."

Ironically, many partners were expressing nearly the same sentiment about Novell.