There are rumors today that a recently enhanced partnership between VMware and Novell –a once high-flying flagship network operating system vendor that, today, is focused on the Linux server (SuSE), infrastructure management (Zen, PlateSpin) and enterprise directory (eDirectory) markets – may be but the first step in a process that will lead to an outright takeover of Novell by the virtualization powerhouse. Novell certainly understands the enterprise space, having once been the system of choice in many enterprises, and the company's acquisition of virtualization-friendly software maker PlateSpin has enhanced its stature in that space as well. In a past life, I was a hardcore NetWare system engineer managing NetWare servers, Zen management systems and GroupWise collaboration servers. I'm firmly convinced that Novell knows what they're doing, but the company made some missteps in the mid- to late- 90's that resulted in their fall from grace in favor of Microsoft Windows NT-based servers and their successor operating systems.
Novell certainly brings a lot to the table, including:
- The products obtained as a result of the aforementioned PlateSpin acquisition, including PlateSpibn Migrate, an outstanding P2V tool.
- The whole ZENworks line, including an application virtualization tool, network access control tool, configuration management tool and an asset management utility.
- SuSE linux.
- GroupWise 8, an enterprise messaging and collaboration platform.
- eDirectory, an enterprise directory that predates Active Directory.
If VMware's intent is to truly move beyond the data center or to enhance their data center presence, I can see why Novell's assets would be of interest. VMware has made it clear that they want to be the data center operation system, so the inclusion of these enterprise products would go a long way toward the company possibly realizing that goal. Although I haven't used Novell products in a number of years, when I did, they were rock solid and reliable, which matches people's perception of VMware's own products.
However, I'm also reminded of a company that, back in the 90's, made a "desktop play" in the days when the battle for the enterprise consisted of getting in front of people's eyes on the desktop system. That war was ultimately won by Microsoft which clobbered the competition with a combination of Windows, Office and Exchange. The company that attempted to usurp Microsoft on the desktop: Novell. Back in the 90s, Novell's desktop ambitions culminated with the company's purchase of WordPerfect, which included "WordPerfect Office" which was later renamed to GroupWise and still exists today. This move to diversify the company led it to take its eye off the network operating system ball and helped to make Microsoft the king of the enterprise.
So, will VMware repeat history and try to diversify the company through an acquisition of Novell?
Will VMware buy Novell simply to acquire its data center management portfolio?
Or, will VMware simply continue on its own?
Only time will tell, but it's an interesting proposition.