Open source software ‘will rule the enterprise’


24 Mar 2005

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Among the various computing and software giants that dominate the global IT sector, there can be no vendor that has nailed Linux more firmly to its mast than network software firm Novell. While most players such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard cautiously opt to keep a foot in either the Linux or Windows camps, Windows is increasingly appearing to be a smaller feature of the Novell portfolio.

As the company bangs out an increasing range of Linux-driven products that transcend not only the desktop world –the company’s recent Linux Desktop 9 for enterprise users and SUSE Linux Professional include as well as the computer’s operating system, a range of office applications and productivity software such as Firefox and Open Office — but entire data management structures of the SME and the corporate data centre customer. At the company’s annual BrainShare event held this week amidst the surreal desert and alpine fusion of Utah’s Salt Lake City, Novell’s chairman and CEO Jack Messman devoted his company further to the Linux cause by advocating a new standard of IT security — identity-driven computing –with Linux at its core.

There is no question that Messman is playing a high stakes game but this is a man who handles Novell like a well-oiled machine: it goes where he wants it to go. Messman was CEO at Novell during its heyday in the Eighties and early Nineties when its network software architecture set the standard for network computing. However, during Messman’s absence in the mid-to-late Nineties, Novell began to rest on the laurels of previous glories and ego took over. Amidst a period of aloofness and inertia Novell’s share of the networked world took a nosedive as rival technologies — namely Microsoft’s Exchange –became the de-facto standard for corporate networking.

Messman’s return to the helm in 2001 was calculated to reinvigorate the company and so far the strategy has worked. Novell and its partners’ embrace of open source is reminiscent of the single-minded vigour that brought the company to prominence during the early Nineties. A year ago Novell’s partner community had created 230 products around open source. This year some 1,600 Novell partners are offering Linux-based products.

Citing IDC research, which projects that during the next few years Linux will grow at the server level by 25pc and at the desktop level by 40pc, Messman said that today’s companies believe that they need to deploy Linux if they want to stay competitive, save money and optimise production.

Messman also quoted a CIO magazine survey that revealed 53pc of all chief information officers (CIOs) stated that open source would be their dominant technology by 2007.

“A few years ago we predicted that 2004 would be the year of Linux,” Messman said at BrainShare. “Linux deployments worldwide grew 38pc between 2003 and 2004. Firms are embracing open source because it gives them the freedom to remove complexity and cost from managing IT.”

Pinning its cause further to the Linux mast, Messman went on to introduce a range of new products and strategies based on open source. Among these was the first end-to-end, server-to-desktop Linux solution for small businesses, Novell Linux Small Business Suite. Messman described the solution as a way of delivering big business benefits to firms on a small business budget.

However, one of the most significant revelations was the company’s unveiling of a new IT security strategy entitled Identity-Driven Computing. The strategy enables organisations to use open source standards such as Linux to design systems that adapt to the complex and dynamic nature of business by using identity information to define the interaction between users and technology assets ranging from PCs to servers to mobile phones and handheld computers.

Under the strategy, organisations can derive greater leverage from all their IT assets — servers, desktops, devices, applications and network infrastructure — by securing and managing the complete asset life cycle through policies, just as they would for users. Under this strategy the company unveiled two new modular platforms designed to secure and manage every aspect of the enterprise –applications services foundation (ASF) and identity services foundation (ISF).

Meta Group analyst Earl Perkins commented: “Novell’s identity-driven computing strategy takes the approach that complexity could be better managed if technologies were more adaptable and more fully leveraged business assets.

“The next formidable challenge for them and their competitors is integrating complex identity-driven services such as federation and virtualisation with specific application server platform environments and doing so in a modular, manageable and cost-effective way,” Perkins said.

Messman is unwavering in his confidence that open source is clearly the way to go, not only for Novell but the rest of the software industry too. Reminiscing on his return to Novell he recalls: “We had to make a change. Our market was declining by 12pc to 15pc per year. Customers were worried about our product roadmap and where Netware [Novell’s flagship software] would take them. Microsoft was not giving up any ground at the time. We recognised what Linux was going to do to software and made our decision and guess what — we are still competing with Microsoft today; we reversed the decline in Netware.

“We had a decision to make; put Netware on top of Linux and you lose old customers. However, by giving the customers the opportunity to switch server volume forward and back between Linux and Windows at the press of a button is making all the
difference.”

On the market opportunity that Linux currently represents, Messman had this to say: “The low-hanging fruit for Linux adoption is Unix. In the past businesses were using Unix on expensive hardware; for example, Sun Solaris on Sparc. By switching to Linux on an Intel server they are reducing their costs by 80pc.

“Ultimately we believe that Windows will be the low-hanging fruit for us because there’s no need for a licence on Linux,” Messman concluded, indicating that Novell has no intention of losing ground to Microsoft ever again.

By John Kennedy