Novell Partners Get Certification Deadline Leeway

Company Says It Will Work With Committed Partners

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Novell partners have till the end of the month to get authorized for the company's wares, but some who cannot make that deadline may get a break.

April 30 was the initial deadline for partners to get all their ducks in a row -- training, certification and customer references. But on that date "we'll look at partners on their way to specializations and are committed and will not penalize partners who are committed," Ladd Timpson global director of partner marketing, told CRN this week.

"We do have partners who will meet that date, but we'll also work with partners in transition to get specialized," he said.

Last November during its first fiscal quarter, Novell restructured its legendary partner program. The idea is to get partners "specialized" in at least one of four areas: Linux, identity/security management, resource management or workgroup. The last designation, includes much of the legacy partner base, including file-and-print and networking services, Timpson said.

The program will retain its Platinum, Gold and Silver tier designations. For the Platinum and Gold tiers, specialization will be enforced. Silver partners do not have to gain specialization, but can do so if they want.

At its annual Brainshare event in Salt Lake City a few weeks ago, Novell also announced free training to help partners transition from Netware to Linux certification.

This is all part of a long march from Novell's NetWare roots to its new Linux focus.

Three years ago, Novell bought Ximian and its Linux desktop expertise and followed that with the blockbuster acquisition of SuSE and its Linux distribution a few months later.

Since then it has struggled to migrate its NetWare-centric partners to the new technology.

Novell's NetWare was the gold standard of file-and-print services for years. Many credit the company, then based in Provo, Utah, with driving the move to LANs and from there to network-based (vs. PC-based) applications. Novell's channel program likewise led the field.

The advent of Microsoft Windows Server NT 4.0, which combined file and print services with application services, cut deeply into Novell's business. Adding insult to injury, Microsoft mimicked many of Novell's partner programs as well, raiding key NetWare partners

Part of this year's Brainshare thrust was to reassure NetWare partners that their expertise would not go to waste. NetWare will continue to run in virtualization mode in the new SUSE Linux Open Enterprise Server, the company stressed.

"The NetWare guys should feel good about the virtualization announcement because they can continue to run their NetWare application from here to eternity," Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian told CRN in an interview at the Salt Lake City event.

Still, some dyed-in-the-wool NetWare partners are unclear about the pay-back proposition for all this Linux-oriented specialization.

"The problem we run into is that the requirements are pretty tough and the training and certification are expensive even if the training itself is free. You're taking four or eight people out of pocket for a substantial amount of time," said one midwestern Novell partner.

He estimates that 10 percent of his people's time is spent in training per vendor. That is not an insignificant number when it comes to lost billable hours.

At the Platinum level, Novell requires each partner to have four technology specialists and four sales specialists. Gold partners need two of each.

This partner said Novell has seen its partner base shrink over the past five years. He says he sees very little interest in Linux among his primarily SMB accounts.

A Novell spokesman acknowledged there has been a dip in overall partner numbers with the company transition to Linux and open source but that that has been "intentional to some degree."

Novell's new partner model is focused on higher levels of "mutual commitment" between partners and Novell.

The company did move to a "quality vs. quantity focus in our partner program. At the same time, as we now move to enact the specialization program, we are focused on recruiting new partners and moving them up through the program into a specialization. . . . We obviously want to grow our partner base."

Another Novell partner said he, and others he knows, have let their Platinum status lapse behind because of new "costly" Linux certifications that may or may not give them a good ROI. They also cite field skirmishes with Novell's own services arm.

Polar Systems, Portland, Ore. gave up its long-held Platinum status and may leave the Novell fold altogether, according to CEO Charlie Tragesser. He said he has faced "bad situations" with the company's services arm.

"We're at the stage now where we are not cutting the cord with Novell but we are evaluating whether or not to keep our expertise up in the Novell area. To some degree, it's because of the attitude of the Novell people," he said. "We're not trying to be nasty. We've just had enough."

Tragesser said his company may offer more services on Microsoft's platform instead because of customer demand.

The spokesman would not specify the current numbers, but said the company has about 200 Platinum-level partners for the Americas. The total reseller community is about 1,000, he said. The goal with Platinums is to focus on quality and commitment, not quantity, he said.

The company, he added, expects to see significant growth in new partners this year.

--Paula Rooney contributed to this report.

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