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Novell sets sights on telcos

The company is showing strength in selling its directory services software to telecommunications and service providers.

Every day there are no confirmed Active Directory shipments from Microsoft, network software maker Novell can breathe a little easier.

The company is showing strength in selling its directory services software, called NDS, to telecommunications and service providers, announcing two more customer wins today. Novell's success comes as the specter of a rival directory technology from Microsoft remains shrouded in one of the biggest delivery date mysteries in recent years. Most expect NT 5.0 to ship in the early part of next year.

Directory services offer a central administrative point for a wealth of network-based information concerning applications, systems, and peripherals. The software can be used as a mechanism to control what can be added to a user's desktop, for example.

Novell announced that Maritime Telegraph and Telephone (MTT) and Singapore Telecom are the latest to implement Internet services using NDS and related technologies. They follow rollouts from the likes of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone and Korea Telecom International as well as a widely publicized NDS deployment by AT&T.

Novell executives believe their success is attributable to a simple fact: they have a reliable technology that they can sell and the Redmond marketing machine does not.

"The telco market is very unimpressed with hype," said Ron Palmeri, vice president for strategic relations at Novell. "I'd say we have a huge advantage [over Microsoft]. We're fighting like crazy to get as many telcos as possible to go with our program."

Microsoft showed its inexperience in dealing with the needs of corporate customers using a variety of products in their networks during an unfortunate fracas with Novell earlier this year.

Despite that episode, most observers predict Microsoft's directory will have a huge impact--whether it works well or not--when it is released in conjunction with Windows NT server 5.0.

As an example of how NDS is being deployed, MTT will use the technology as a complementary tool as it rolls out a service based on DSL (digital subscriber line) technology so that parents can set caps on Net-based gaming from the home. MTT will set limits based on information gathered in user profiles, such as how much money a child is allowed to spend on Net games over a specific time period.

Analysts believe Novell is having success due to the increased focus on administration and tools such as directories. Some, however, wonder how successful the firm can be after the window of opportunity caused by delays in Windows NT server 5.0 closes.

"The jury's still out as to whether it's going to pay off in the long run," said Dwight Davis, an analyst with Summit Strategies. "It's just a means to an end for the telcos."

Most service providers that implemented NDS have simply added a layer to a network that is largely based on Unix systems, the classic stalwart of the telecommunications world.

Once Microsoft has something to sell, it could only be a matter of time before the laundry list of large customers for the Redmondians follows, according to Davis. "Novell's there with its solution and Microsoft is still struggling to get its directory out," he said. "But Microsoft's push is very real. They're not in a position to push a directory now, but you can bet that when NT 5.0 ships they'll take advantage of that technology."

Redmond executives believe they already are gaining a foothold in telecommunications, citing the variety of partners and customers they display on their Web site.

"Microsoft has a great multipurpose platform in Windows NT Server. Therefore, there are loads of places where service providers are building solutions," said Kevin Kean, group product manager for communications and networking at the company.

The software giant's current plan, using NT 4.0, seems to be focused on getting server systems into the departments of service providers and telecommunications firms. By planting those seeds, the company can blitz those same customers with new technology once NT 5.0 ships, according to analysts.

But Kean made it clear that Microsoft is having success now--not biding its time until it ships an enterprise-class directory. "With NT 5.0, the story just gets better," he added.