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Novell recruits Cisco for software

The networking company bags another key partner for a software strategy based on its directory technology as its stock hits a new high.

Novell bagged another important partner for a key networking software strategy based on its directory technology as its stock hit a new 52-week high, another sign that the once-struggling firm is in the midst of a renaissance.

This confluence of technology and business-related events could not come at a better time for Novell, a company that recently released an important upgrade of its NetWare operating system and insists that it has a golden opportunity to revitalize itself through use of its directory services software, known as NDS. Novell plans to release fourth-quarter earnings next week.

The company today announced at the Comdex industry trade show in Las Vegas that Cisco Systems, the leader in equipment for data networks, plans to integrate its own policy-based management software tools with NDS. The endorsement follows similar deals with Lucent Technologies announced last month and Nortel Networks last week.

A directory offers network managers a central repository for a slew of information concerning network-attached devices, such as PCs, server systems, and networking hardware, as well as intricate data about users.

The inclusion of Cisco in Novell's strategy to interest third-party software and hardware firms in NDS integration is significant because the networking firm has already committed to tightly integrating with Active Directory, a highly touted component of Microsoft's forthcoming Windows NT 5.0 server operating system upgrade, now dubbed Windows 2000. That work is separate from Cisco's policy-based management software division and will result in a specific Cisco-branded product that ties into Microsoft's directory.

Novell's comeback may stem in large part to the focus chief executive Eric Schmidt has brought to the firm since his arrival early last year. Once an executive team was put in place, it became clear that the company would use its NDS technology as a strategic centerpiece.

Novell's stock closed up nearly 10 percent for the day in heavy trading.

Cisco, for its part, may be reacting to the realization that the NT upgrade is behind schedule and will not see the light of day until the first half of next year at the earliest, with most industry observers pegging general release of the mammoth operating system for the second half of next year.

Unlike Lucent and Nortel, Cisco will not bundle a copy of NDS with its software, since Novell and Cisco have a wide array of mutual customers already using the directory technology, according to Novell executives.

News of a possible deal made the rounds at another industry trade show last month. Just last week, Cisco officials seemed receptive to a partnership: "We continue to talk to them about interoperability issues," said Joe Hielscher, director of policy networking at Cisco.

Cisco plans to integrate two management programs--the Network Registrar IP Registration Services and the User Registration and Tracking Service--with NDS in the first half of next year.

Novell and Cisco also plan to float extensions to an important directory interoperability specification, called the lightweight directory access protocol, or LDAP, to the Internet Engineering Task Force, a standards body.

Novell also offered a glimpse of some "agent" technology it is working on for NDS based on the Java programming language. The so-called agents can sit within any routing or switching device that supports Java and communicate with the software code within the hardware to facilitate automatic discovery, configuration, and management.

"We think the entire hardware world is going to be pretty excited about this," said Michael Simpson, director of marketing for Novell's network services division.