Friday, January 26, 2007

Why to sell NOVL

The 'break' over the holidays has been very refreshing, at least until this week. A half-dozen small issues & developments served to remind me that some things will never change. I typically speak out against the pessimistic mindset that causes people to stop challenging their environment, limitations, etc. Today, a little part of the optimist in me is dead.

At my own company, we've gone from projections of excellent financial performance across the board to a "batten down the hatches" mantra where any expenditure must be absolutely necessary - somewhat frightening for a company as static, mature, and large as ours.

Worse yet, at Novell, the message regarding the death of Novell Security Manager by Astaro as a product offering was bred with the announcement that the formerly deceased BorderManager on NetWare would be reincarnated. BorderManager is a notoriously bad enterprise firewall product - bad in that it had great potential that was amputated by horrible design decisions (not the least of which was running an IP-based appliance on a kernel to which IP is foreign). So now it's back, and as of 2/1/07, you won't be able to buy a Linux-based firewall product from Novell...the world's leader of Linux solutions. Eventually they'll have a Linux-based product that does some of what BorderManager/NSM does, but that'll be much later. Worse yet, as owners of NSM, you'll have to re-purchase Astaro should you choose to remain on that product.

Bind this with the as yet unresolved problems of OES Linux patches coming down in giant snowballs filled with new issues top-to-bottom (suddenly, things break, and YaST - the big SuSE differentiator - has to be mothballed if you use RUG); GroupWise's continuing decline in market share (now roughly 5%) and growing feature gap relative to the major e-mail systems (SharePoint anyone?); the utter inability for Novell to have capitalized on any of the positive momentum with which they were bestowed in the Linux space...and the piece de resistance - my sweetheart product, the cornerstone of my career as an engineer, is decoupling itself from eDirectory.

That's right - ZENworks will no longer support eDirectory natively.

You'll hear it referred to differently, but they're basically eschewing eDirectory, ConsoleOne, and iManager in favor of their own mini-directory and web-based management interface. It will presumably synchronize in some fashion from eDirectory, but will definitely present brand new challenges from the standpoint of delivering applications for those of us who have "followed the rules" for the past decade.

The culmination of these recent discoveries combined with the wisdom of hindsight have led me to the following conclusion. Novell is a company without leadership capable of governing and channeling their product development efforts. They develop methods and technologies, and run them unbridled to their logical ends at a pace 4-5 times faster than customers can adopt them. Their history is rife with examples (except for GroupWise). Novell Portal Services - dead before it had a chance. DeFrame (the ZEN component that seamlessly integrated delivery of terminal-server based applications) - similarly fated. (Sounds cool, doesn't it? Well, you can't have it anymore). SilverStream / exteNd - not exactly pushing this anymore, are they. Don't worry, you'd never have been able to do the stuff they showed at BrainShare anyway.

If you're still carrying stock, you missed your chance to bail out and take the tax break before 12/31/06. So you have two choices. Bail out now and send a message, or wait until your tax picture for 2007 becomes clearer and bail out then. But whatever you do, DON'T hold NOVL long hoping for a turnaround. It won't happen. Ever. Not Ron Hovsepian, Chris Stone, or Jesus H. Christ himself could change the culture significantly enough in Happy Valley to keep Novell from shooting itself in one foot as it sprints ahead of it's customers with the other.

It's a sad day when someone like myself - a former Novell employee, and long-time champion of their vision & product set - says to his VP (of our Novell products) "If you told me tomorrow to get rid of all this crap, I'd say 'fine'." You fight for the people who fight for you - the people who back you up and make you look good for choosing them. It's just not a fight worth choosing anymore.


James Gosling said...

To hell with it... stick a gun up your nose and blow yourself away! Ok, ok so we are all entitled to a good moan now and then, but I think you're taking this all a bit too personal! Progress is painful and like you I was 'shocked' when I was given a sneak preview of the latest incarnation of Zenworks, but change can be painful and Novell have some brilliant offerings these days. As always though Novell marketing is so far up its own xxxx that its throwing out information that just instills panic! Keep bloggin though man, the peeps at Novell are probably reading and may actually listen to some of your concerns...!

ZEN Master said...

Very funny, James...

My Blog is entitled "Diary of a ZEN Master" for a couple of reasons. 1) Diaries capture the emotions of a 'moment' for future reflection. 2) The "ZEN Master" has been on this product since before 1.0 shipped. I've made a living implementing IT management strategies that look an awful lot like ITIL before anyone knew what ITIL was - ZEN has been at the center of making that happen for around a decade.

Forgive me for taking fundamental changes to the product seriously, especially when I'm unable to get questions answered by the vendor that would have a significant impact on solutions I'd been previously putting in place and advocating. When the product changes in such a way that my company must also significantly change how we do things, that's a big deal. I'm less worried about the technology as I am by the difficulty I've had getting simple answers to questions of adoption & migration.

I think it's a shame that Novell has decided to marginalize their own directory (which they're doing more and more frequently now), but it's failure in the market isn't a result of the product - it's a failure of Novell's ability to develop sound go-to-market strategies and to get a broad understanding of their customers. Until that changes, I don't think the company stands much of a long-term chance.

gcballard said...

Interesting post. I think we all get emotional a bit when we have some much blood, sweat and tears in a product.

I feel differently about ZENworks because I'm coming from a different place now. Our company used to be solidly novell. We couldn't get any money to improve it, so we finally broke down and got $1 million to move to Microsoft. Although at times it feels like it, it's not truly selling our soul to satan.

So, to "de-couple" ZENworks from eDirectory is fine with me. The whole architecture has changed and I think (hope) for the better. I'm a beta tester and I'm excited about pulsar (ZCM) but I'm holding the ZEN teams feet to the fire on some issues.

The sad fact is that many decisions are made in the interest of making money. Sometimes, I think that these decisions don't take into consideration the damage to the morale of the Novell faithful.