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Novell Serves Up Reminders of Infrastructure Roots

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Against a backdrop of efforts aimed at remaking itself, Novell executives Monday seized the opportunity to help put its sizable Linux and system management initiatives into some context for enterprise IT buyers.

Strategic initiatives for Linux and plans to grow its businesses received top billing on Novell’s menu at its annual Brainshare conference on Monday.

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“Novell is first and foremost a software infrastructure company,” said John Dragoon, the company’s chief marketing officer, during a press conference today at Novell’s annual Brainshare user conference in Salt Lake City.

The company currently offers system management, operating system and identity management products. Its coherent go-to-market wrapper is now part of the company’s larger goals.

CEO Ron Hovsepian told the audience that the history of Novell has been about working in heterogeneous, mixed-source environment — and it’s something that he expects to continue as well.

The comments come on the heels of a year of continued transformation for Novell. In August, the company acquired Senforce, an endpoint security vendor and rolled out its own ZENworks Configuration Management offering built on Senforce’s technology. Earlier in 2007, the company disclosed its purchase of resource virtualization firm RedMojo — a move likewise designed to strengthen its IT management efforts.

Novell also has moving in other areas, as well. In recent weeks, it acquired SiteScape, an open source player in team workspaces. The move was designed to better position Novell’s GroupWise against rivals like IBM Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange.

However, growth from that business — one of the company’s biggest revenue producers — as been anemic as of late.

During the past several years, Novell’s Linux business has become one of its core areas of concentration as well as one of its fastest-growing. For company executives, the effort remains part of its core focus on software infrastructure.

A sizable portion of those efforts remain centered around SUSE Linux. Accordingly, on Monday, the company announced early plans for its next generation of the offering, version 11.

The release is slated for later this year. SUSE 10 was released in July 2006.

According to Novell CTO Jeff Jaffe, SUSE Linux 11 will include Unix-to-Linux migration tools as well as more virtualization, interoperability and desktop features.

Jaffe did not provide specific technical details on the actual components that will make up the release, however.

“Why are announcing that we have development plans rather than a product that we can ship?” Jaffe said during the press conference. “It’s important to understand how open source works and that it’s not developed exclusively at Novell. It’s important that we start marshalling people together for the next innovation in the Linux space.”

Jaffe also said Novell currently has some 400,000 installations of OpenSUSE (Novell’s community Linux) as proof of Novell’s position in the open source community. He also said that in recent months, Novell has moved to open up the management of OpenSUSE to allow broader participation by non-company developers.

Novell plans to increase its development contribution to a number of key open source projects, including Samba, he added.

“We really admire the open source methodology and it really drives innovation,” Jaffe said. “On the other hand, if you drive innovation in too many different directions, it doesn’t always lead to a product in the right direction.”

“So, we will be stepping up involvement with some open source projects to improve success and prevent fragmentation,” he said.

Collaborating with others also includes working with enterprise software giant SAP. In a joint announcement at Brainshare, SAP and Novell announced an expansion of their partnership to improve SAP’s efficient operation on Novell’s Linux platforms.

In addition to watching its Linux efforts, industry watchers have been keeping an eye on Novell’s relationship with Microsoft — another key partner.

“I feel good about where it is and, more importantly, where the potential is for where it could go down the road,” Hovsepian said. He did not elaborate.

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