Monday, October 24, 2005

Red-headed step-child syndrome

Not too long ago, I was Red. I used to wear red underwear. Bled red. For a while, I even ate, drank, and slept red. I wasn't alone, either. I used to know dozens of customers - hundreds of people, who were every bit as Red as I was.

Most of our vendors even fancied red, although you always got the feeling they were kind of cheating on their main squeeze when they were with Red.

I'm not talking about being a communist. I'm talking about being something much, much more heinous - a Novell customer.

Now it seems, Red is somewhat out of fashion. Faded. Unkempt. Losing teeth, or something. And I'm not so certain I want to be Red anymore.

Novell is one of the most confounding organizations I've ever come across. I've been their customer. I've been their employee. I've been their partner. And it never ceases to amaze me how good they are at defeating themselves.

I've told people privately, and am willing to tell the world, that Novell will never become the company it can and should become until it learns there's no such thing as a useful sacred cow. It's likely that Novell will never learn that lesson while headquarted in and recruiting from Provo, Utah. I'm sorry, it's a very nice place to visit and live, but the gene pool is only deep at one end in Utah - technology.

As anyone can attest, Novell's problem isn't - and has never been - technology. Novell's problem is the systematic construction of self-defeating business models and practices.

In one half of the house, you have people churning out the most amazingly insightful and useful technologies the IT industry has ever seen. In the other, you have people so hell bent on maintaining product release schedules and developing innovative sales incentive programs that they become a black-hole for great ideas.

I have proof. You may have forgotten their names, but I haven't. Remember Novell Portal Services? NetMail? DeFrame? Those are a few of my favorite casualties.

Were the technologies bad? No. Did something better come along? No, but sometimes something different came along.

So where did they go? Great question. The answer is simple - Novell couldn't figure out how to sell this stuff, or indeed what to do with it at all. Some products stepped on the toes of other products...in which case, no matter how good one was, the bigger one prevailed. Pretty smart.

It gets worse. Novell's strategy and direction - when somewhat more tangible than a box of mud, changes pretty frequently. This is confusing to partners, who need to follow if they are to provide support and feed off the customer base.

When the vendor is confused, the partners become confused. When those partners are confused, they do what any smart entity does. Evaluate risk and reward. Without enough customers crying for Novell support to outweigh that vendor's cost of continuing to provide it, vendors will drop it like a hot rock.

And drop it they have.

Try to find a single backup solution that supports NAS, SAN/FC, Near-line storage pools & tape libraries, AIX, Solaris, Windows, Linux, and NetWare 6.5 Clusters. Bakbone? SyncSort? Tivoli? Veritas? Try them - I dare you. TSM's documentation for NetWare 6.5 Clustering support was copied & pasted from the Microsoft documentation. SyncSort is in the backup software business exclusively, and they couldn't figure out how to get their stuff to work reliably in a lab!

But don't stop there. Try to find an enterprise monitoring & management console that runs on or integrates with NetWare, and will scale to monitor & alert on more than 55 devices. Try to find more than one vendor who provides IP telephony integration with GroupWise.

Try to find enterprise grade contact databases, CRM solutions, call center solutions, networkable-MFC machines, printer drivers, even business-card scanners that know about or directly support NetWare, eDirectory, or GroupWise.

Try to find a single web-based or Win32-based console to administer all the parts of your Novell infrastructure!

Novell doesn't even use it's own products in-house. NetWare/OES runs a scant portion of their enterprise. GroupWise is on the way out. ZFS hasn't been part of their monitoring solution for years - the IS&T NOC uses mostly home-grown or third-party software.

Got eDirectory, GroupWise, Oracle, Active Directory, Cisco IP Telephony with Unified Messaging, and want the Novell "Zero Day Start" solution? Get ready to hire a consultant to do some breadboard patchwork driver development...at least two of those components are totally foreign to Novell's IDM solution despite their significant market penetration.

Some of Novell's own products are incompatible or losely integrated with one another. How is that possible? Everything Microsoft writes is compatible with every other thing it writes! What gives? From my view, the problem is that Novell doesn't understand the most significant law of Human Nature (I think I wrote on this earlier). "People do what they are incented to do." And in Provo, people are not incented to help out their friends in other product groups.

To the contrary, they play their cards best when they avoid contact with other product groups alltogether. Financially and intellectually, they're in a battle against their fellow employees. They are fully incented to deliver the best individual product they can - even at the expense of their peers. To hell with integration or compatibility, to hell with ease of use, to hell with whomever is already working on a similar solution.

Instead of competing against a standard of greatness, they're competing against each other. The problem is, nobody is winning.

I once e-mailed Chris Stone, asking him to please read Good to Great. He replied, indicating that he had, and agreed with many of the ideas therein. I almost bought stock in Novell that day. I was convinced that Chris Stone could knock skulls in Provo, and get rid of the idiots who keep running great technologies and ideas into the ground because they don't know how to make money from them. Apparently, I was wrong about Chris (or I was right, and he just got tired of fighting).

So to top off the facts that their products don't often work well (or live well) with each other, and that vendors are running away from them faster than Edwin Moses, with the fact that their support model is based on information that can't be less than 15 years old. Product support and upgrade protection are sold separately, and in very finite quantities - the only self-proclaimed "enterprise software vendor" to have such an arrangement in my experience.

The short of it is that you - as a Novell customer in good standing - may have a significant problem with a Novell product and not be able to get support for it from a Novell technician. A pretty significant barrier to adoption if you're considering becoming a Novell customer, or considering renewing as such.

Now mix in a myopic sales & marketing organization who can't make any of this stuff relevant to anyone but a deeply technical IT Manager or group of Engineers, and you have a recipe for long-term atrophy & disaster.

Message to Novell - I don't care about your new patch utility, I have ZEN. You want to add value? Tell me about building an intranet with simple content management facilities, that fully integrates all the Novell products I've purchased, using a point-and-click GUI and requires no code (and if you mention exteNd I'm going to tear your arm off and beat you with it).

As easy as it would be to lose faith and jump ship, I won't. There's hope on the horizon. New blood being infused into the company is sick and tired of the stupidity, and they aren't going to take it anymore. NetWare is recognized as the abominable lopsided wheel it has become, and all eyes are on Linux to carry the torch. I'm willing to stick it out and see if life is better as a Linux shop than a NetWare shop. I don't imagine how it can be any worse, but I'm obviously not good at predicting the episodes in which Novell shoots itself in varying parts of the body.

I can say that it's remarkable how good or bad a company appears to the customer, based solely on the quality of the account executive. Fortunately, we seem to have been placed into the hands of a pretty good one recently. I hope for Novell's sake that ours is the first of a growing breed.

I need a drink. Wonder if I can get a vendor to buy me a Guiness...

3 comments:

Jeremy said...

Hi ZEN Master,

There's a rumour that Novell will be sacking 20% of its staff soon.

http://www.abend.org/article.php/20051021110819968

I hope Novell survive, SUSE looks promising.

ZEN Master said...

I hope they survive as well.

There've been some interesting news stories. One of Novell's largest investors wants GroupWise and ZEN spun-off, which Messman has said he will not do.

Usually rumors of layoffs are true. The timeframes and numbers aren't always accurate, but every time the rumors have been public, Novell has cut back its staff.

My most significant fear about SuSE/OES/NLD is that Novell will fail to execute with them in much the same way they failed to execute with NPS, exteNd, and DeFrame.

In my opinion, one of two things needs to happen. Either the successful product groups need to be their own company, or the internal clockwork at Novell needs to be revamped completely. They can start at the top.

Jeremy said...

The idea of spinning ZEN off is crazy.

Its the best ever Novell product IMHO.

Everyone should be using it and the fact thats not true is probably due to the marketing genius of Novell.

GroupWise is tied to Netware - if you run Netware you really don't have much choice.