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Novell execs put on good face

Novell execs, including new CEO Eric Schmidt, show up in force at Interop to try and spread good news about the company.

Interop LAS VEGAS, Nevada--New Novell (NOVL) CEO Eric Schmidt promised at this week's Spring Networld+Interop 97 that the beleaguered company will be a leader in the Internet/intranet market by the time the conference reconvenes next year.

Schmidt offered familiar views on the evolution of the industry and the move toward a unified user experience around a single logon to networks. He hyped the company's Novell Directory Services (NDS) as the way to a "services"-centric view of the computing business. A directory is a central repository for network and user information that can be used to set policy and administer a network.

After the speech, CNET's NEWS.COM caught up with Schmidt's right-hand man, Novell president Joe Marengi, to talk about the directory market, the recent controversy surrounding the departure of engineers from the Wolf Mountain clustering software, and Schmidt's technical vision.

NEWS.COM: What is your response to the Microsoft-Cisco announcement yesterday involving Microsoft's Active Directory technology?
Marengi: I can go back a year ago and [Microsoft senior vice president] Jim Allchin is saying that you don't need heterogeneity on the directory because it's a singular platform and that's what we're building. All of a sudden he is saying heterogeneity must be important.

We've been very successful in getting the heterogeneous directory out there. People have to follow what we're doing, they have to. We have a product with a huge installed base right now, we have a product that is more than two years advanced and when you look at what the telcos are doing right now with the product, it's a huge advantage. The opportunity between Cisco and Microsoft--you have to let the thing unfold and you have to read between the lines to see what's really behind that: "You do this, and I won't do routing."

NEWS.COM: What is the adoption rate of NDS?
Marengi: 500,000 servers a year that we sell are directory-enabled. AT&T, who is using directory services for its WorldNet service, has about 70,000 customers on the system. There's about 22 million users on our side, but the Santa Cruz Operation is doing it, Sun Microsystems is starting to do it, and Hewlett-Packard is putting it in their platform; it's ubiquitous. I expect our directory to amplify quickly.

NEWS.COM: There's a lot of positioning at the border and junction point of the network with companies like Cisco entering the security and encryption markets. How do you see this market evolving?
Marengi: The problem that Cisco's going to have right now, and I know they were doing some internal directory development, is that they're going to wait for Microsoft's directory. The question is: When does it ship? Is the 1.0 release good enough? Is the 2.0 release good enough? Directories are very complex.

What we're doing at the border, with the directory-enablement of the border devices, is to offer the ability to do fine-grained security. Who has access to what application? Who has access to what device? Who has access to what Java applet? Where are they located? All that stuff is controlled by the directory so the company with the best directory that moves away from point devices has a good advantage.

NEWS.COM: Do you see partnerships similar to Microsoft's with Cisco for Novell?
Marengi: All I can say is that I would hope so.

NEWS.COM: Has there been any damage in the aftermath of the exodus of key engineers from the Wolf Mountain project?
Marengi: None. The only thing that's happened is two individuals in particular wanted something that just wasn't logical from our standpoint and they left. Eric and I sat down with them and we wanted to try and make things okay, but they wanted to do their own thing. However, they aren't going to do it with our technology.

One of the first things I did six months ago when I took the job is I put a vice president over that group because they had great technology thoughts and concepts, but none of it was being product-ized. We can continue on with no impact. We have the thing architected already, now we just have to build it.

NEWS.COM: In a recent preliminary earnings report, Novell announced weakness in the small business market, traditionally a strength for the company. How do you regain momentum in that market?
Marengi: The thing you have to do is you have to get the right application development environment for people to put applications on. So right now, we still have the NLM environment (NetWare Loadable Modules). Through a program called Solution City we're bringing together the most common applications for people to use in this environment. The next evolution of product, which is based on Java Virtual Machine, will open this thing up much more.

Right now we're just trying to maintain what we have without having our share go down. We're in a dogfight in the low end, there's no question about that. We'll put some very specific channel programs together to focus on that end of the market. The difficult thing to do is to get small business to understand that directory is important for them too.

The Microsoft model is, directory is not important, you don't need it, why worry about it. It is important to customers as soon as they reach out of their own walls.

NEWS.COM: What is your future with the company?
Marengi: Right now, I'm just driving it to where we're at. Eric and I will sit down at some point in time in the future and we'll lay out the entire top management style of the company and at that point in time I'll say "this makes sense for me or it doesn't make sense for me." That time hasn't happened yet so there's nothing really to talk about.

NEWS.COM: What is the most visceral effect Eric has had on the company?
Marengi: We haven't had a technical visionary in the company for a long time. We've had a void there, and we're a product company. Novell has always had good technology, but the new world technology is something we're playing catch up on so what I expect Eric to do for us is not only take us to the new world technology but allow us to leapfrog in that space. And that's what he will do for us. And I think I can be really bold in saying this: He will allow so really good recruiting to happen at the company because great people follow great people.