Attachmate to feast on Novell technologies

With its Novell purchase, Attachmate will need to streamline its product portfolio

With its pending US$2.2 billion purchase of Novell, Attachmate is acquiring a rich portfolio of technologies. The next step will be actually putting these riches to work, analysts said Monday.

"Novell may be one of those companies where the sum of the parts could be greater than the whole, under new leadership," said Rebecca Wettemann, the vice president of research for IT analyst firm Nucleus Research. The challenge, she said, is for Attachmate to "pull it all together and deliver the next generation of products."

"Novell has always had some strong technology and great research and development," Wettemann added. It has been less successful in "getting it from the lab to the desktop," she said.

Novell is best known for its NetWare network software, which was widely used through the mid-1980s and into the early 1990s but has since been largely succeeded by Internet-friendly networking technologies. In 2005, Novell replaced NetWare with its Open Enterprise Server.

The company had fielded a number of other products as well, with varied success. The company has long offered GroupWise, a collaboration product that "was far less expensive to support and administrate than Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes," Wettemann said. But Novell never gave GroupWise the marketing muscle it deserved, preferring instead to concentrate its efforts on the waning NetWare market, she said.

Other Novell software packages of interest include ZENworks, a collection of asset management software, as well as the business service management software that Novell acquired in 2008 with the purchase of Managed Objects, said Charles King, president and principal analyst of the Pund-IT analysis firm.

Fitting this new software in Attachmate's existing line will be a challenge. Formed in 1981 and currently owned by an investment group, Attachmate itself first specialized in terminal software, which allowed for remote access to mainframes. In 2006, it purchased NetIQ, a provider of network management software.

Up until now, there hasn't been any cross-pollination among the various product lines that Attachmate oversees, said Jonathan Penn, a vice president for Forrester. "You have to expect some integration between NetIQ and Novell," he said.

It remains to be seen what role Novell's Linux distribution, SUSE Linux, will play. While Novell has marketed SUSE to appliance makers, the OS has trailed behind Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Canonical's Ubuntu in terms of enterprise adoption.

Nonetheless, in terms of Novell's portfolio, "the SUSE stuff stands on its own," King said. "The vendors that are active in Linux don't make a lot of money from selling Linux, but they make money selling services related to Linux."

In Novell's case, "They ran a poor second to Red Hat, but they have some good partners in IBM and other vendors. It should provide some interesting synergies for Attachmate," King said.

One item of interest is Novell's five-year agreement with Microsoft, signed in 2006, in which Microsoft agreed to sell and support Novell's SUSE Linux for its own customers, as well as to not assert patent rights for any technology it may possess that would be in Novell's SUSE Linux distribution.

"This indemnification agreement is set to end next year. The first question of business would be if Attachmate continued the indemnification," King said, noting that no other major Linux vendor signed an agreement with Microsoft. "It's something that Microsoft would likely want to continue."

Not everyone agrees that SUSE will remain with Attachmate, however.

"Attachmate is far more interested in Novell's systems management and security business than in the platform business," Penn said. He noted that Attachmate plans to keep SUSE as a stand-alone business unit, which would make an easy sale possible. "Someone may step in and make a good offer," Penn said. "It may be in [Attachmate's] best interest to sell it."

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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