Tech Industry

Novell leans on directory

Novell's strategy will increasingly rely on populating computer networks with its Novell Directory Services.

It has reached mantra status at Novell.

No longer assumed to be an esoteric component of the company's NetWare operating system, Novell's strategy will increasingly rely on populating computer networks with its Novell Directory Services (NDS)--a technology whose time, executives believe, has come.

Novell thinks it can garner developer support through NDS, a central repository for information on users, devices, and applications-sort of like a phone book for your network resources. Previous attempts to spur development on its operating system have received a tepid response from programmers, though a nascent server-based effort surrounding the Java programming language may eventually bear fruit.

The latest step by Novell to make NDS a ubiquitous tool for a variety of operating system software will come within a month when the company will harden its relationship with Linux-based software provider Caldera, according to sources close to the deal, part of a continuing strategy to let developers utilize NDS functions on alternative platforms.

Caldera already announced tools in July that allow the services of NetWare, Novell's flagship operating system product, to run on top of the Linux code. Now, Novell will pledge to port a version of NDS to Caldera's software, the sources said. Netscape Communications has a similar arrangement with the commercial Linux software provider.

Novell already has plans to deliver a native implementation of NDS for Solaris, the Unix variant offered by Sun Microsystems, by the end of the year.

Other efforts--which included support from the likes of IBM, the Santa Cruz Operation, and Hewlett-Packard--have bogged down, according to Chris Stone, Novell's senior vice president of strategy and corporate development, due to the nature of the deals.

In an interview with CNET at the launch of the NetWare 5.0 upgrade earlier this week, the executive said the deal in place involved a simple cash-for-code transaction so that third parties did not necessarily have to proactively port the NDS software. Now Novell is focused on delivering internally-developed native versions of NDS for its own operating system, Microsoft's Windows NT, Linux, and Solaris, choosing not to wait for partners.

A native version of NDS for NT recently entered an initial test phase. Microsoft will undoubtedly gain converts when its own refangled approach called Active Directory ships in the Windows NT 5.0 upgrade, an operating system now expected to ship sometime in the next year. But some have noted that Novell's approach has been used for some time in customer's networks.

"I'm really not crazy about jumping into Active Directory," said Jeff Daly, vice president of information systems at InterVoice.

This could bode well for the firm. With organizations beginning to realize the benefits of a central administrative software resource for an entire network of users and systems, Novell hopes to turn that increased interest into a development renaissance, with programmers writing to NDS to take advantage of its intricate bevy of information.

Novell claims 30 million users are currently found within versions of NetWare that incorporate NDS.

Eric Schmidt, Novell's chairman and chief executive officer, equated the emerging use of directories to the initial phases of the database market, when users realized that the real marvel of the software occurred when you tied applications to it.

To that end, Novell's strategy guru Stone noted that the company's developer network has quadrupled in the past six months. "It's an independent phenomenon now," he said. "People are beginning to realize a directory is the chaos manager.

"Now we've got to have the applications," he continued. "That's one of the missing pieces right now."

Novell has contributed to these so-called missing pieces, shipping an administrative tool that can manage Windows PC deployments using the directory. "I've got to show it off--the more ubiquitous we make the directory, the more people will want to buy it from us," Stone said. "We're building a story. The story starts now."