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What next for Novell?

Mergers always begin with vague statements that leave users guessing

November 22, 2010 04:53 PM ET

Computerworld - In an era of technology industry consolidation, the questions raised by Novell's sale to Attachmate for $2.2 billion ought to be familiar by now. Analysts can only speculate -- and users can only wonder -- what may happen to Novell's deep and extensive enterprise product lines.

Acquisitions almost always lead to some product line consolidation or outright discontinuation, often coupled with changes in pricing and terms of support. It can take months or more before the impact of a merger is felt. Statements by top officials of the acquiring company are supposed to sound reassuring, while they typically lack meaningful details. Such was the case today.

"We have great respect for Novell's business, its employees and its commitment to customers," Jeff Hawn, chairman and CEO of Attachmate, said in a statement announcing the acquisition. "Moreover, we look forward to maintaining and further strengthening Novell and SUSE solutions to meet market demands."

Later, in response to questions, an Attachmate spokesman promised that "current roadmaps and release schedules will stay intact. ...After the closing of the transaction, we will operate a brand portfolio comprising Attachmate, NetIQ, Novell and SUSE. Our priority is to 'do no harm' to the successful standalone operations of all companies as we integrate."

The Attachmate spokesman also said the companies' product lines are "very complementary," adding, "Our portfolio is formed in order to best serve our customers as they want to see long-term commitment to product roadmaps and solution offerings."

Ever since it began shopping itself around earlier this year, Novell has created a degree of ambiguity about its future. Expect that uncertainty to continue for a while.

Gartner analyst Earl Perkins doesn't see any fast changes in products immediately following the acquisition. His advice to users is simple: "Stay put. This technology has been around a long time, they have a big customer base."

"It's not likely at this particular phase, and probably not for more than a year, that you are going to see any major shifts in what Attachmate is going to do with Novell," Perkins said.

Novell products, particularly in the collaboration space, have faced other challenges -- always from Microsoft, but now from Google and other cloud providers.

The city of Los Angeles, for instance, has been moving some 30,000 users from Novell's GroupWise to Google Apps. The change will cost the city some $7.52 million to do, but officials believe they will save millions of dollars in software licensing, maintenance and storage costs.

Perkins said that Novell's GroupWise and general collaboration strategy may be moving toward cloud services. In the hands of the right service provider, "it would actually serve as a pretty good services product for delivering collaboration as a service."



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