How The Internet Saved Novell
Let's face it: for the past few years Novell has been in danger of becoming completely irrelevant. File and print services are available from every operating system vendor on the planet, and are increasingly becoming available in snap-on hardware form as well. With a Lantronix print server and a DEC disk server, who needs a dedicated fileserver?
But now things are different. The exploding Internet and Intranet markets are allowing Novell to position themselves in a whole new way. No longer are they just a file- and print-services company, but are instead the holders of the world's largest Internet-ready captive customer base. By executing a strategy that allows NetWare users to maximize on the benefits that the Internet and Intranets offer while simultaneously preserving the intrinsic value of the NetWare OS and tools, Novell can define and take a strong leadership position in the future of the industry.
Frankenburg and company appear to realize this as well, and have rushed to bring new technologies and products to the market that strengthen Novell's position as the Intranet platform of choice. They have released strong DHCP and Web servers in record time, have provided robust Internet-centric interfaces to their GroupWise e-mail and group scheduling product, have turned IPX' intrinsic negatives into positives with NetWare/IP, and have moved rapidly to integrate Java into the NetWare OS itself.
But perhaps the most significant proof of Novell's willingness to aggressively pursue the Internet is their recent alliance with Netscape to integrate the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) into NDS. This has a tremendous impact on the Internet, as well as providing extraordinary value to Novell's captive customer base.
LDAP offers tremendous promise for Internet mail, as we now appear to have an acceptable method for publishing and sharing e-mail directories across platform lines. Not only can it be used as a truly "global" address book, LDAP can also provide information about people themselves, or systems, or software, or whatever you want to put into the directory.
By Netscape promoting the use of LDAP on their client, they are providing users the ability to lookup e-mail addresses, or to locate resources, regardless of where that information resides. As long as the directory containing the desired information is accessible via LDAP, the raw data itself could be stored in an X.500 or X.400 directory running on an HP system, a DCE database on an IBM mainframe, or in an NDS directory on a NetWare server. The client market is opened up considerably, thereby providing the much needed killer combo of mindshare and distribution.
By Novell putting LDAP interfaces on their NDS services, users can use any LDAP client to locate information that resides on the NetWare servers, whether those servers are public or private. For example, you could choose to publish your NDS user accounts on the Internet via LDAP, allowing outside customers and partners to locate the people and services they need.
But companies may not choose to jump on this immediately, and may choose instead to take a wait-and-see approach to LDAP's use on the Internet. If enough people start to use it, then the masses will follow. Consider that AT&T's ANCS uses NetWare Connect and NDS, since the latter's directory tools allow AT&T to manage hundreds of thousands of user accounts easily. By putting an LDAP interface on top of ANCS, Internet users will be able to locate and view information about each of AT&T's Internet users. Now multiply this times ten, as AT&T is only one of the major telcos that use NetWare Connect in this manner. Japan's NTT, Australia's Telstra, France Telecom, Deutsch Telecom, Unisource and several other operators all work in a similar fashion, and will all likely follow suit as soon as they have the code.
Having access to those directories will create the necessary momentum required to push corporate systems into adopting LDAP as their standard. Novell, with the largest installed base of users and directories, stands to benefit the most. By offering LDAP on top of NDS, they increase the value of NDS tremendously. Companies will find that they are now able to manage all of their directory services (e-mail addresses, system and service information, etc.) as opposed to just the NetWare-specific information, and therefore the usage of NDS within organizations will increase tremendously.
If Novell can continue to enhance their position in the Internet, and especially in the Intranet markets, then they will emerge as one of the strongest players in the industry in just a few short years. From my position, it doesn't look like they are hiding behind a wall of proprietary services, but instead are embracing what the Internet promises, and utilizing their advanced (albeit proprietary) technologies to do so. Novell has recognized that this is the greatest opportunity they have ever had, and are acting on it appropriately. And that's how the Internet is saving Novell from irrelevance.