SALT LAKE CITY — The promise of a leaner, meaner Novell Inc. has at least one Canadian IT manager cheering.

At the company’s annual BrainShare conference vice-chairman Chris Stone made it his mission to transform Novell

through aggressive marketing. The company’s 163 offerings will also be trimmed down to make way for more solutions-oriented product sets.

“I feel really positive about it. I was happy to hear Novell say, ‘We’re going to do it,’ said Carl Langford, manager of technical support for Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.

Langford has a vested interest in the success of Novell since Laurier is in the midst of a comprehensive IT overhaul based on a series of Novell products.

Last year, the university began by rolling out NetWare 6 and Novell Internet Messaging System (NIMS). Phase two of the project, currently underway, will see Laurier move to GroupWise, ZENWorks for Servers, ZENWorks for Desktops, Novell Account Management and eDirectory.

Langford is following the progress of Novell closely, particularly since the equipment he’s replacing came from Banyan Systems. Novell could learn a lot from the history of Banyan, he said — the company’s products were popular with IT managers, but an inability to successfully market them finally forced Banyan to abandon its network software business in 1999.

“Maybe we’re taking a bit of a chance (with Novell products), but I don’t think so,” said Langford. “We can manage a server room without having to run in there at three in the morning. Those kinds of things are worth it.”

It was important to Langford that the IT upgrade go smoothly since there is an added strain on university resources due what’s become known as the double cohort. The province of Ontario is trimming one year off high school education starting in 2003. Next year there will be twice as many high school graduates for universities to contend with — the final class of Grade 13 students and the first set of Grade 12 graduates.

The beginning of that shift is being felt this year as many students are trying to fast track their way through school to avoid the crush next year.

Laurier experienced a 10 to 20 per cent increase in the number of university applications this year, according to Langford, and expects an even larger increase next year.

“It was always something in the back of our minds, but Net Storage and iPrint (part of NetWare) take some of that worry away. We had a hit coming and we knew we couldn’t deal with it the way we were,” he said.

Of the 8,000 students who have recently received new e-mail accounts due to the IT transition, “we only had a handful of people come in with a problem.”

While at BrainShare, Langford is keeping an eye on Novell’s new product announcements. ZENWorks Synergy is Novell’s first example of a solutions-set product. Synergy, according to the company, will install and launch applications from client server, terminal server and Web architectures. The product is the result of collaboration between several of Novell’s development groups, said chief technology officer Carl Ledbetter, including portal and calendaring.

Ledbetter has recently been given more scope in the company and will begin to reshape engineering teams to develop more solutions products. “All of the product organizations will be organized that they will build connected suites of products rather than point products,” he said.

Langford applauds the move to a solutions focus. “It does get confusing when they pull out of a list of products,” he said. “It’s not totally clear to you what each of them do.”

Laurier opted to install Novell software using its own IT people, relying on Novell for a series of crash courses on product deployment, then leaning on the company’s tech support phone line. Langford is considering ZenWorks Synergy “probably from the get-go” rather than waiting for a point release with more features, which should be available later this year. “Certainly something like ZEN is a fit for a university or college environment.”

Novell is working on other products to meet the needs of specific environments. Later this year it will deliver an identity-provisioning solution, code-named Mercury, for employees, followed by other versions of the product for students and customers.

Mercury is built on DirXML, one of Novell’s core technologies. According to Joe Skehan, senior product manager for net directory services, DirXML was being used by customers to build their own provisioning solutions, so Novell is taking out the middle man by delivering pre-configured provisioning products.

DirXML is like a box of mixed Lego bricks, he explained: you can build anything you want with it, but it takes time. Mercury is like a Lego kit where you build a product according to specification, then modify the final product as needed.

Novell is considering more verticals for its provisioning solutions, with health care somewhere on the horizon. “It’s hard to find common denominators,” said Skehan, “but we’re looking heavily at what people are doing with the product to see if we can build the knowledge back into the product.”

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