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Novell gains more steam

As expected, Novell inks a deal with Nortel Networks to integrate Novell's directory with forthcoming software from the networking giant.

The bandwagon is getting crowded.

Network software provider Novell is winning converts to its directory services software, though whether they represent true gains in support from networking equipment providers or a pure perception play remains unclear.

As expected, the company announced a deal with Nortel Networks that integrates Novell's directory, called NDS, with forthcoming policy-based management software from the networking giant. The move follows an agreement with telco equipment behemoth Lucent Technologies that was inked last month.

Often referred to as network "plumbing," directory services software acts as a central database for user, system, and network information. That data can then be manipulated by information technology professionals as they set up group or company-wide access rights or other policies.

Novell is thought to have an advantage in directory technology, a service that comes with each purchase of its NetWare operating system software. Netscape Communications also competes in the market, while the specter of Microsoft has become increasingly prevalent, though its next-generation directory--a component of the Windows 2000 server upgrade--will not likely ship until the second half of next year.

The newfound confidence in Novell's technology shown by the likes of Nortel and Lucent--which was noticeably lacking while the company shuffled executives at a dizzying pace--can be traced to the arrival of former Sun Microsystems Java guru Eric Schmidt early last year and the subsequent hiring of a new executive team.

That team recognized the need to exploit its technology advantage in directory services, according to analysts. "There is some substance here," noted Jamie Lewis, president of technology consultants the Burton Group.

"First and foremost, Novell has leadership--we're seeing a better Novell," Lewis said. "Even if it's perceived momentum, it's an incredibly important and vital thing for them to do."

Lewis said the deals to integrate with software and equipment from Lucent and Nortel are the most substantial partnerships Novell has pulled off in the directory space, though they do not approach the deal between Microsoft and data giant Cisco Systems centered around the Redmond, Washington-based software giant's forthcoming Active Directory.

But some believe Cisco may be rethinking its approach to directory services software-technology--which aspires to be the organizational mechanism for the Net--given Microsoft's slew of delays in delivering its Windows 2000 upgrade, formerly known as NT 5.0.

Novell's own work with Nortel will appear in the second quarter of next year, when Nortel plans to deliver a set of software functions that are intended to allow network managers to allocate and prioritize bandwidth as needed.

"In our minds, the deal clearly establishes that the momentum is there," said Steve Adelman, vice president of corporate development at Novell. "We're talking to lots of people in the networking industry and in other industries."

Novell's NDS technology will include information from Nortel's routing software, called BayRS, as well as the Accelar and the Passport switch lines. Nortel also intends to support Cisco's internetworking operating system (IOS) routing software and extend information from that technology to NDS.

Novell executives said they plan to demonstrate inclusion of information on equipment from Nortel and Lucent within an NDS interface at next week's mammoth Comdex industry trade show.