Novell CEO Launches Major Linux Channel Push


At the company's annual BrainShare conference in Salt Lake City, Novell CEO Jack Messman made a big channel push for Linux, launching Linux Small Business Suite 9, ZenWorks 7 Suite for Linux and Windows, and a GroupWise upgrade code-named "Sequoia" that will incorporate the SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 at no additional charge.

The month of March is pivotal for Novell's Linux channel ambitions. While the company has focused much attention on its SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 and desktop to enterprise customers since completing its acquisition of SUSE last year, the focus is now on building the Novell Linux channel.

With more than 5,000 partners and Novell employees in attendance, Novell's CEO said the two product releases -- combined with the new MarketStart program, designed to extend Novell's global support and distribution network to open source projects and small companies -- will advance Linux and expand channel participation in Linux.

"We're expanding our ecosystem of services and partners," Messman said during his keynote, adding that Novell also plans to launch identity management and application service foundations that will test compliance of partner and ISV solutions with Novell's security and application platforms.

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The MarketStart program, a key initiative aimed to cultivate an ecosystem of open source companies with ISVs and channel partners, will extend Novell's ample channel and distribution arms to small open source companies and projects that lack funding and marketing resources to build a business based on SUSE Linux.

Messman said Novell's NetWare and Linux VARs will play a critical role in helping bridge the divide. "We will leverage our support infrastructure and our partnership infrastructure and our solution providers to make it easier for open source companies," he said. "Over the next year MarketStart will accelerate the process to build, deliver and support validated open source stacks [from open source companies] and then take it to market through Novell's channels."

Aside from the delivery of OES, Novell's launch of its first small business server based on Linux is a significant channel play and will go up against Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003.

The Linux Small Business Suite, which will begin shipping at the end of March, is based on SUSE Enterprise Linux 9 and includes GroupWise 6.5, eDirectory 9, Novell iManager, the ZLM and five free user licenses for $475. Customers can use Novell Linux Desktop or Windows. Novell released its first major Linux desktop last summer and plans to launch SUSE Linux Desktop 10, code named "Cassidy," to complement the next SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 in 2006.

Novell's Linux suite offers configuration wizards that will allow solution providers to choose from a list of default configurations and the ability to tailor and customize configurations.

It will be sold exclusively through the channel and the price includes support for up to 100 users and three servers.

Small businesses can take advantage of existing investments in Windows and NetWare and move to Linux at their own pace, the CEO added. "Over time, many component of this suite will be replaced by open source components. It is a great product for our channel partners to add value."

Meanwhile, the ZenWorks 7 suite, also announced at Brainshare, is an upgrade of Novell's popular ZenWorks management platform that will allow customers to manage their Windows desktops -- as well as Linux desktops -- from a Linux platform. The suite is planned to be delivered in the second quarter of 2005 but pricing is not yet available.

Yet it was Messman's reassurance to Novell's partner base that the company will continue to support its flagship NetWare and GroupWise platforms that drew the most applause from the audience. Novell will continue to enhance and support NetWare as a core component of Open Enterprise Server over the long term. Novell plans to launch three more releases of GroupWise until 2008 and will support NetMail through 2010. Novell recently announced plans to open source NetMail as part of project "Hula."

After Messman's keynote, Dennis Challe, CEO of Novell Platinum Partner Infinity Technology, Green Bay, Wisc., applauded Novell's Linux products and initiatives for channel partners. Infinity was a Linux supporter before Novell bought SUSE. One of its engineers is the first Novell Certified Linux Engineer (CNE) who is presenting at BrainShare. "I think the direction is great and will get partners interested. MarketStart sounds interesting," said Challe.

In an interview with CRN after his keynote, Messman acknowledged that Novell has lost some customers to Microsoft but characterized Microsoft's release of a report last week citing 1.5 million Netware defections to Windows as overexaggerated, or a list that was likely compiled over the course of a decade.

There are no massive partner defections to Microsoft Windows, Messman told CRN.

Yet, with the launch of new Linux products and marketing initiatives for SMB partners, NetWare VARs are at a turning point, though Netware services will continue to be enhanced as part of OES. One NetWare solution provider said he is worried about the future because he doesn't want to migrate to either Linux or Windows and feels Novell is pushing Linux too hard and fast on partners.

"I don't know where my career is going," said Richard Strong, senior network analyst for Vienna, Va.-based Reliable Integration Services, who came to BrainShare to evaluate Novell's roadmap and plans for NetWare and other products. "I'll have to see where the river flows."