Novell dumps servers for portal

As information chief of Novell's Asia-Pacific region, one of Sam Gennaoui's tasks is to rip the company's servers out of Auckland and Wellington as Novell moves to a corporate portal.

As information chief of Novell’s Asia-Pacific region, one of Sam Gennaoui’s tasks is to rip the company’s servers out of Auckland and Wellington as Novell moves to a corporate portal.

Over the next six weeks, half of Novell’s Asia-Pacific offices will start accessing their applications from central servers in Sydney.

The Auckland and Wellington offices will be linked by DSL rather than the previous frame relay and other offices will either be connected by fibre-optic cable services or DSL.

Gennaoui says going to broadband has increased bandwidth 10-fold and reduced the costs of running the company’s WANs by half.

Novell New Zealand managing director Peter Revell admits to being a sceptic and says he nervously emailed a colleague in Brisbane, the first office in the portal roll-out.

“The reply was very positive. Performance enhancements have been significant and it made life simpler for the IT people. But come and talk to me in about a month’s time,” he says.

Gennaoui doesn’t expect any issues with reliability of the DSL connection.

“We were using frame relay and were at the mercy of the carrier anyway. The technology is maturing all the time.

“In the past six months with DSL we’ve had two outages for a couple of hours. As a backup we have a bank of modems to handle urgent emails.”

Novell New Zealand will bid farewell to its servers at the end of August, although there will be a cut-over phase during which users will have the choice of using notebooks (which will still have the necessary client-side software) or the browser-based portal.

Gennaoui has been at the forefront of developing the new solutions and services that Novell is taking to market. Not that it was intended that way, he says.

His initial brief was to talk to internal users and solve their business issues. It just happened that the resulting solutions are useful to external customers as well, he says. He regularly talks to customers about the business issues Novell has confronted.

User access

“[Internal] users wanted to be able to access any system from anywhere using any device, anywhere in the world, 24 x 7,” he says, “from inside or outside the firewall.”

So after a worldwide brainstorm Novell’s IT staff developed a portal from which users anywhere can access email and other company applications by browser from any desktop. That means no longer having to lug a notebook around.

Users enter an ID and password once, are authenticated and, based upon their identity within the directory, have access to all the products and services they need.

The portal was launched in the US in November and the company is now piloting 15 previously client-server applications, including Microsoft products, and a helpdesk system.

Another business issue presented to Gennaoui was how long it was taking to get new staff hooked up to the systems — 17 in all — they need to do their jobs, a process which took three to four weeks. Staff were also leaving, but retaining access to various systems and equipment.

Gennaoui and other CIOs came up with what has been dubbed by company’s marketers as “zero day start”, a concept built around Novell’s directory, which automates the assigning of access rights.

A new product, dirXML, ties in all the systems, which include a electronic door access, PABX, financials and HR systems and the network directory. The company boasts a 50% reduction in administration costs and a 15% increase in productivity as a result.

Rules and processes

But it’s not just about using Novell products, says Gennaoui. It’s also about business rules and processes, and managing cultural changes which arise from technology changes.

Novell’s approach was to introduce business consulting skills to its IT staff. The acquisition of Cambridge Technology Partners, announced in March, was a part of that move.

Revell says even the company’s experience with the merger will eventually result in a solution that can be taken out to customers.

That means more support and consulting opportunities and Novell is working with Deloittes and gen-i to provide that, he says.

But don’t think Novell will stop developing and supporting those packaged products upon which the company is founded, says Revell.

NetWare, ZenWorks, Groupwise and the others will remain a focus of the company.

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