Novell CEO Jack Messman and Chris Stone, vice chairman in the office of the CEO, talked about Linux at Novell, grid computing and other topics in separate interviews Monday with Computerworld's Matt Hamblen at the company's 20th annual BrainShare conference, which has attracted 6,000 users in Salt Lake City.
Q: Mr. Messman, you said in your keynote address to the BrainShare audience that Novell is back. How has the last year been with the reinvigoration from Linux at Novell?
Messman: This has really been a process of three years, starting with the merger with Cambridge Technology Partners in 1999, and the world came down on all of us with the dot-com bust. We were all searching for the light at the end of the tunnel, and Novell was a company in transition. We hadn't figured out what to do to transition the company until we came up with the idea of migrating NetWare to Linux.
That idea opened a whole new way of thinking in the company. It was as if the light bulb went off. We suddenly saw opportunities where we hadn't seen them before, and partners said if you do that we'd be interested and we'd be willing to help you. It's been nice to have that sort of reaction. We had difficulty talking to people and getting in the door with some customers. We were the NetWare people. We had many other products but just couldn't get to the right people. Now, the spotlight is on us with Linux and we get in the door. And we talk about Linux, but then talk about Web services, identity management and they say, "I didn't know you did that."
Q: What are some of your future marketing efforts going to be?
We're focusing on changing marketing. We won't focus so much on creating demand for Linux in general, because IBM (Corp.) is doing a good job of that and spending the money for TV ads and so forth. We're going to ride their coattails for that. In terms of turning Linux into solutions for customers, we'll do a good job of that going forward.
Q: Would you say Novell is going after Microsoft with Linux on the server and desktop?
That's an important point. We're not going after Microsoft; The open-source community is going after Microsoft. We're not taking on Microsoft; The open-source community is. We don't own the Linux code; the community owns it. We merely sell software and services that allows CIOs to use the free code that's within the open-source community.
The Linux direction is going to be profitable for us. We wouldn't do it if it wasn't. Server Linux will have more revenues and profits, but desktops will have more units. This year will be primarily more Linux server-oriented, but Linux desktops are coming and we'll help develop that interest.
Q: Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux kernel, made a surprise appearance to the adulation of Novell users during the opening session of BrainShare. What was the significance of his appearance?
Stone: The audience that's here is a developer audience, so as Novell has made this transition to be open-source-focused, he is the leader and most famous person in that space. It makes a difference to show Novell has the chutzpah to get a guy like this to show up in front of all these developers. It will be the biggest buzz here by developers for three days.
This was not meant to be an endorsement of Novell by him. He's very much an individualist, and he supports obviously what we're trying to do with Linux because we are furthering his original idea. So he's not endorsing a Linux distribution. He won't touch any topic beyond the Linux kernel.
Q: What will Novell be offering customers in the autonomic or grid computing space?
There is a lack of clarity around this topic. Everyone has a name for virtualizing data, processes and applications in the computing environment. You can call it grid, autonomic, utility computing, you can call it on-demand, demand more, the list goes on. Those are market terms, but I don't care what you call it. It really is the ability to provision a storage service or an application or a print engine across an array of devices. So, if this computing utilization is at 80 percent on this CPU, I'm going to take the unused print server and place it over here and provision the 80 percent process instantly. And when I do this, the file system knows the move is taking place, the control lists all move along with it, the management environment knows that provision has taken place. ... It's not that big of a deal technically.
But to customers, it's a big deal and here's why: They've got Unix machines or mainframes or whatever and run these things at 30 percent of capacity and they have no way to provision more stuff that's running only at 30 percent. That's why this process makes sense. You save a ton a money. The challenge for companies like Novell is to build a better management platform for grid or utility computing, and when you provision a service to happen, you don't drop stuff like Access Control Lists when you move a process. For example, if I move a file serve process from one blade server to another, I need to made sure the Access Control Lists move, too.
Q: Will you have a product for grid computing at Novell?
Stone: All I'm saying is we understand what it is. We don't have a name yet. We have some technology to build out what I described for you. Pay attention: Watch this space. We'll be participating in providing a solution there shortly, but that's really all we're saying.
Messman: We've been doing some of the dynamic allocation of computing kind of work for years with our resource management product, called ZENworks, Zero Effort Networking, where we manage desktops, download software and keep track of things on the desktops. We've been doing storage-area networks and network-attached storage already for a number of years and that's all coming together in the whole concept sometimes called autonomic computing.
The one thing we'll do that's different from other vendors is the dynamic allocation of applications. We're not so much focused on dynamic allocation of CPUs and storage and saving the hardware costs. We're interested in dynamic allocation of applications, the provisioning of applications to the right people. That's where our identity management product comes into play. As far as a product goes, it might ultimately turn into a product or a version of ZENworks. It's in the engineering stage. There will be other advances in clustering. Those kinds of technologies are all coming together.
Q: What technologies do you see coming in five years?
Stone: More and more disconnected devices will come. We have to find a way to take our resource management capabilities and manage the plethora of hundreds of millions of devices.
The idea of federating identities and directories on your cell phone is good so you don't have these stupid stored 50 phone numbers. I want a network directory on my phone to find anybody in the world. I want to be able to put Linux on a phone as an embedded service or in a real-time manner. That cell phone should be provisioned just the way your laptop or the grid is provisioned. That's the biggest issue we face. Web application development is a component of all that because in a service-oriented architecture, this is a service that gets integrated with the phone or laptops. It all ties together and that's what you'll see us doing.
Q: Why did Novell move it headquarters to Waltham, Mass., from Provo, Utah?
Messman: The SEC required the change. The place where the majority of your executives is located is your headquarters. It doesn't mean we've diminished our commitment to Utah. Utah is a great place to be, and we've got the Linux developers, and we'll be growing our general population here.
Stone: We didn't say to employees you have to drive to Boston. We are still culturally attached to this location in Utah. Ask the employees and they'll tell you they are generally happy. The headquarter thing, they don't care about. It's a nonissue.