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Q&A: Novell president vows to crank up its marketing, Linux strategy

Mar 23, 20066 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsLinuxOpen Source

Novell President and COO Ron Hovsepian details plans to win marketshare for its Linux story.

Novell’s second-in-command is Ron Hovsepian, who was promoted to president and COO in November 2005. Previously executive vice president and president of Novell’s global field operations, Hovsepian filled the spot that Chris Stone, as vice-chairman, had vacated in November 2004.

Network World Senior Editor Deni Connor caught up with Hovsepian at the company’s annual BrainShare user conference this week in Salt Lake City to discuss Novell’s marketing plans, how it will compete against established Linux player Red Hat, and migrating NetWare users to Linux..

A recent Goldman Sachs study showed that Novell had lost mindshare among CIOs. How do you rebuild the CIOs mindshare in Novell, a company they abandoned many years ago?

To me it happens at two levels – one, is you focus on the big enterprise accounts that have the brand recognition, so when we talk about us being selected at British Telecom to do their identity, people understand that cachet – it begins to start to capture the attention. We’ve focused on it for two reasons – we need to have our enterprise reference accounts inside the company, which is critical to any company’s success, and then the second thing we need to do is spend more time with the press explaining what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, so that the CIOs reading these magazines hear us. It happens at the marketing level and at the factual field level, hard-nosed examples of where you are having success. We just won Bear Stearns over Red Hat. We have to make those public. We haven’t done a good job of that in the past. If we don’t tell people about the problems customers face and how they solved them, we lose mindshare.

We did a repositioning of the company around ‘Software for the Open Enterprise’ and now we need to crank it up and get our rear ends out there and do the hard work. We didn’t do that – we kind of went dark.

Novell has already had great technology but without marketing ‘that’s a lot of who shot John’ – if you have all this great innovation but people don’t know anything about it, it doesn’t do you any good.

We can do a lot about getting our message out – some of the open source projects get us that credibility. Some of the things we talked about earlier are what we need to do to get the engine up and going again. We need a regular cadence, not just once a year at BrainShare. That’s just not good enough. That’s the game plan.

Why hasn’t Novell been able to exploit open source as well as Red Hat?

There are two major reasons. One, Red Hat had a good running start before we got into the game. That’s okay. That’s life. The second part of it is our strategy was to focus on an enterprise approach to Linux vs. just a server approach, which is what Red Hat has done. So they have a lot of mindshare and market share to their credit. What we’re going after right now is we’re going to step on the gas pedal. We now have a full enterprise story – we have the desktop, point-of-sale, servers, mainframe – so now I can do all that on the same SuSE Code 10 base to all. Now we need to crank up our engine and intersect Red Hat downstream a little further than where they are operating from.

What applications do you think are right for Linux?

It has a couple of facets – you are going to have certain vertical industries adopting it earlier and faster – public sector is going to be earlier because of the lack of competitive concerns they have. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a number of Departments of Motor Vehicles around the country and our teams have been working with them. It also varies by layer in the stack, meaning operating system, database, middleware. The third dimension is also geography – a lot of the BRIC nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China – are going to be key to get early. We’ve only seen the operating system components get going. Databases such as MySQL or middleware such as JBOSS are just getting going.

One of the biggest stumbling points of users migrating to Linux is file and print. NetWare users love their file and print, but they won’t have full featured services until the Cypress release in June 2007.

That’s why our message is take your time migrating. That’s why we’ve made it public how long we are going to support NetWare. Different organizations are going to migrate at different timeframes. We’re not naïve to that. So if you need to wait for Cypress, wait for it. The other thing though is the way we’ve packaged some of the pricing. You can move forward today with Linux and you can run NetWare-based kernels and Linux ones at the same time. We have not done a good job communicating that to our customers. Us emphasizing this whole enterprise story is critical for the network manager as well because that’s going to help them when they have their conversations with the CIO. It’s not just a Linux/NetWare file and print conversation.

In Europe, you have had some success with the new Open Workgroup Suite, a combination of SuSE Linux, GroupWise and ZENworks.

Yes, 30% of those customers are new customers.

That re-establishes the Novell three-legged stool revenue stream for the company – if one of those legs gets knocked out, the other two …

It hurts, it hurts.

Do you look at that suite to establish a revenue stream for the company?

Absolutely, we are very excited about it. The other part of the market that gets interesting is the older Exchange and Windows NT customers who don’t want to make the transition and pay the support fees to Microsoft. There is one situation where we are looking at replacing 2,500 NT servers with OES. Most customers are going to have both NetWare/Linux and Windows environments. It’s going to be a co-existence. We made it too much of a holy war. If we stay focused on the customer they need to balance their Linux environments with their Windows environments. I want to help them do that.

More BrainShare coverage.