The good news is that Novell is now competing with a company whose marketing savvy is even worse than its own.
Back in the early 1990s, when Microsoft discovered workgroup networking and, later, enterprise networking, the-then Novell CEO Ray Noorda thought he could go head-to-head for the networking market.
Noorda knew his product was superior to Redmond's in every way. What he didn't count on (nor did most of his successors) was that Bill Gates' marketing machine could easily squash any technological advantage that Novell might have.
"Today, Microsoft networking is No 1 and everything else (including Novell's networking) is - in the words of my former sales manager - 'Nos 18, 19 and 20.'"
But in terms of servers, Linux does give Windows some competition. And in Linux, Novell's SuSE is in the top three. In North America, though, Novell still trails Red Hat. Admittedly, Red Hat has been selling Linux a lot longer than Novell. That's similar to the position in the networking market 15 years ago when Novell was No 1 and Microsoft was the challenger.
A couple of years ago, I mentioned that NewsForge editor Lee Schlesinger had said: "If good marketing is the answer, Red Hat's days at the top are numbered." Now we've got further proof.
The Xen (not to be confused with Novell's own ZENworks) hypervisor is an open source virtualisation engine. It provides an abstraction layer that allows each physical server to run one or more "virtual servers," effectively decoupling the operating system and its applications from the underlying physical server. It's similar to what VMware offers, if you're more familiar with that.
Novell has included the Xen hypervisor with SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 (SLES 10), saying: "Novell believes that Xen is absolutely ready for enterprise deployment. The Xen hypervisor that has been integrated into SuSE Linux Enterprise 10 is stable and Novell offers full support for the Xen hypervisor. Novell, XenSource and our [independent hardware vendors] partners (including IBM, Intel, AMD, HP, Dell, and Fujitsu Siemens Computing) have proved the stability of Xen through thousands of hours of quality assurance testing prior to our official release in July 2006."
Now that appears to be an odd statement. It's almost as if someone were saying something bad about Xen, don't you think?
Well, someone is, and that someone is Red Hat. In a story in ZDNet Australia, Red Hat VP Alex Pinchev is quoted as saying: "(Xen) is not stable yet, it's not ready for the enterprise. We don't feel that (Xen) is stable enough to address banking, telco or any other enterprise customer, so until we are comfortable, we will not release it."
Strong words, certainly. Could it be that a) Red Hat has trouble integrating Xen into its latest shipping product, or b) it's miffed that Novell shipped it first? After all, the software is solid - at least according to Red Hat CTO Brian Stevens. Yep, asreported by The Register last March, Stevens said that Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 5.0 will "tightly integrate" Xen by the end of the year, with migration and assessment services for customers planned this summer.
Red Hat's executive vice president of enterprise solutions Tim Yeaton is quoted in the article as saying: "We want to encourage customers to adopt [this] in as broad a way as possible. We'll make it easy to consume and use as much as possible."
Great thing about the Internet - once something is made public - you can find it forever. Novell's marketing folks would do well to learn from Red Hat's gaffe - don't promise it if you're not going to deliver it. And don't bad mouth with one hand what you praise with the other. There may not be much of a future for NetWare, but there's a glimmer of hope for Novell.
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