Confusion reigns on Wolf Mountain

Customers are trying to figure out the difference between Novell's Wolf Mountain clustering project and a start-up with the same name launched by Novell engineers.

CNET News staff
4 min read
A newly hatched start-up launched by former Novell engineers is causing confusion over Novell's (NOVL) Wolf Mountain project, a critical set of clustering technologies intended to push the company's operating system into new business markets.

Jeff Merkey, an architect for the Wolf Mountain project, and Darren Major, brother of Novell technology guru Drew Major and a member of the Wolf Mountain development team, both left Novell last week to start the Wolf Mountain Group.

As if the name was not confusing enough, both Novell and the start-up are working on remarkably similar products: clustering software that could man servers with as many as 800 processors and combine servers running Windows NT, various Unix flavors, or Novell NetWare all in one cluster, or group of servers running as one.

Merkey claims the Wolf Mountain Group has already garnered over $50 million in venture capital funding.

The start-up's message is spreading doubt among Novell customers. but both companies are playing a delicate game of trying to reassure the public that everything is above board without giving away very much information about their product plans.

The last time they saw Merkey was at last month's BrainShare '97 user conference, where he ran an on-stage technology demonstration of Novell's Wolf Mountain clustering software in front of thousands of Novell enthusiasts.

Now, he's implying that Novell isn't going far enough to support NT with its Wolf Mountain development.

In an interview with CNET NEWS.COM, Merkey said his vision for the Wolf Mountain technology is different from that of his former employer. "We just didn't see how we could get broad enough market coverage inside Novell," said Merkey.

The Wolf Mountain Group immediately became a Microsoft Independent Software Developer. In fact, Merkey says his company will release a clustering product for Windows NT, before NetWare or Unix. The NT version is due out by the end of the year, but the company won't release more details until May 1.

Novell isn't providing much information either. The company has given no timetable for release of any of its Wolf Mountain technology. The company says it will provide further details at next week's Spring Networld+Interop '97 trade show in Las Vegas, undoubtedly with the intent of clearing up the confusion over the two Wolf Mountains.

"I'm not sure what they're doing," said Michael Bryant, director of product marketing for Wolf Mountain for Novell. "But we're still on track. It doesn't hamper the project going forward."

Merkey says his former employer does not need to worry about the start-up using Wolf Mountain secrets in its products. "We're being very careful," he said. "We have and will continue to honor our obligations to protect Novell's intellectual property under our employee agreement with Novell."

But the former Novell engineer wouldn't comment on the similarities between the two products, except to point out that Novell has never sent out a press release that used the Wolf Mountain name in connection with an actual Novell product. Merkey also wouldn't specify how many Novell employees have joined him, even though at one time the company's Web site said that 70 Novell employees had left for the start-up.

Bryant said the number of departures is "substantially lower" than 70 but also wouldn't count exactly how many have jumped ship. He also refused to comment on any legal issues related to use of the Wolf Mountain name.

"We don't harbor any ill will against them; what we own, we own," Bryant continued. "It has caused some confusion primarily because of the linkage of the name."

For Novell, the Wolf Mountain fiasco is merely the latest bump along a rocky road. Last week, the company said numbers for its second quarter are expected to come in below analysts' expectations. And the Wolf Mountain controversy dissipated any momentum generated by last month's Brainshare.

Analysts note that none of this bad news can be linked to the company's new CEO, Eric Schmidt, but it does add to the work he has to do when he finally gets to Novell.

"It does nothing to bolster anyone's confidence in the company," observed Jamie Lewis, president of the Burton Group consultancy. "[The latest controversy] is another symptom and not the underlying problem."

Lewis noted that Novell business units have historically been the scene of turf battles and that this has hampered product development in the past. The Wolf Mountain Group is just the latest example.

"It's not something Eric is going to be able to cure within 90 days. This is endemic within the organization," Lewis said. "These seeds were sown a long time ago. The reality is Novell is going to have to, in my opinion, weather more bad news before things are consistently good again."