Novell’s new CTO: Agnostic all the way

Novell Inc. has spent the last year trying to live up to the maxim “”less is more.””

Last March, at the company’s annual BrainShare conference, vice-chairman Chris Stone promised customers and partners that the huge catalogues of Novell

products were behind them. It was going to get simpler: fewer products, more solutions. Stone brought in Alan Nugent to help get the job done.

Nugent had some prior experience with Novell as a customer. He’d worked for financial services company American Re-insurance and served as CTO and deputy CIO at Xerox. “”When Chris Stone, who is a long term acquaintance of mine, re-joined Novell last year, he said, ‘Why don’t you come and take a look at what we’re doing these days? You know the company, you know what the warts are. . . Come and help us fix it.'””

Novell would now best be described as a services company, according Nugent. “”The term ‘services’ gets so bloody overused it drives me crazy, but there’s really no other way to characterize it.””

Nugent spoke to Communications & Networking recently about the metamorphosis into a services company, the role of Linux in the enterprise and when we’ll actually see some headway in the Web services market.


CN: Are you replacing former Novell CTO Carl Ledbetter?

Alan Nugent: In responsibility, but not in person. Carl is the head of engineering, so he’s moved over to run R&D in Provo (Utah). We’ve changed the CTO role a little bit from when Carl had it. I have a slightly broader responsibility. I’m involved in all the direction setting for business strategy, technology strategy. I certainly get involved with a tremendous number of customers. I’ll go out and talk to CEOs, CIOs, CTOs and hear first-hand what they like about Novell and what they don’t like about Novell. I can bring a lot of back to the company and say, “”Here’s what we ought to be doing better.””

CN: So you were brought in to help pare down the company’s 163 different product offerings into more of a solutions set?

AN: The first thing that the management team did was kind of look at the total breadth of the product offerings, the confluence of the various kinds of professional services and the markets — not necessarily in that order, but that was the assessment. It was kind of — the market drivers are here, here and here, and the skill sets that we have are here. What do we need to do in order to be more appealing in these market segments? Clearly the acquisition of Silverstream put us squarely into the Web services space. But it wasn’t a blind acquisition. We didn’t say, ‘Oh we want to do Web services.’ It was, ‘We know we need to have a good developer story to tell.’

CN: How do you fight the perception that Novell is a company that tends to reinvent itself every couple of years? One year, it’s a NetWare company, then eDirectory, then Web services. How do you make sure there’s a continuity of thought at Novell?

AN: It’s very difficult for any company to stand up and say, “”We are one thing”” — unless they’re a very small company and a niche player. Novell has changed quite a bit over the years from being a pure infrastructure play and I think the consistency in our message really began when we said, “”We’re really a services company.”” The service that we were beating our chest about at the time was directory services. That is true today.

But in a more general sense we’re really a services company . . . security services, directory services, Web service development, professional services.

CN: How do you sell products and services into heterogeneous environments where customers mix and match technology from different vendors?

AN: We’ve got a number of customers saying, “”I love the NetWare services, but I can’t put a NetWare server into my engineering organization that has only Sun workstations in it. But if you can give me those NetWare services on Solaris, I’d be happy.”” That’s the kind of thing that we’re responding to. That’s a wave that we’re going to ride. We have a number of customers today who are looking at Linux as a strategic server platform, so we’d be foolish not to leverage as much as technology as possible into that environment.

CN: What about your Web services play? How do you position your Destiny Web services roadmap into what is adding up to be a very crowded but unproven marketplace?

AN: The main differentiator we have in the Web services space is the agnosticism. We give our customers the opportunity to develop in a standards-based environment and deploy onto anybody’s Web server. We’ve different from the IBMs and BEAs of the world in that fundamental way. Also in the way that we’re not the business of making Java developers more productive, we’re in the business of helping people make their business problems more solvable.

CN: How is Silversteam going to be integrated into your products?

AN: It’s pretty much done at this point. The 4.1 version of exteNd, which is shipping now, is a fully-branded as a Novell product. It has the beginnings of the integration with the portal services. We’ve relocated all of the Silverstream folks into a consolidated facility in the Boston area, where the Novell field office, executive headquarters and all of the Boston engineers now live. We’ve cross-pollinated the Provo and Boston engineering teams with members of the others to ensure we’re getting the right kind of cultural and technological integration.

CN: We’ve heard numerous vendors touting Web services for a number of years now. When do you think it will actually come to fruition?

AN: My personal opinion is, we will have rapid Web services adoption when the software application vendors begin to release Web service-based apps. So it’s the PeopleSofts, the Oracles, the Siebels. They’re committed to doing it, so I don’t think it’s a fantasy.

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