Wary Users Mull Abandoning NetWare

Novell cites sales channel as service complaints rise

As Novell Inc. last week announced that it would cut 16% of its staff, some users said concerns about the company's future and service are driving them to consider a move from NetWare to Windows or other platforms.

Novell said it will cut 900 jobs and take other measures to bring expenses in line with revenue expectations. The company provided few details, though executives said development of NetWare's proprietary IPX protocol and NetWare client will move to "maintenance mode."

Aidan Garcia, chief Novell engineer at Eastern Bank in Lynn, Mass., said he isn't worried about continued support from Novell, but he would like to know where the cuts will be made. "If they are making large cuts in NetWare development, I'd be concerned," he said.

Several midsize customers said they have experienced subpar service from Novell.

"We wanted to build [customer relationship management] and use GroupWise as part of the core," said Fred Leakeas, information systems operations manager at Intermountain Gas Co. in Boise, Idaho, which has about 600 users on NetWare. "They gave us some lip service, but it went nowhere - they never called back." Leakeas said he hasn't seen a Novell sales representative for a year.

They Never Call . . .

Chris Miller, manager of information technology and telecommunications at National Beef Packing Co. in Liberal, Kan., which has about 400 users in three locations, has a similar story.

"Nobody calls, nobody comes by. They sell their product, and they're gone. And even getting support is like pulling teeth," he said. Miller said he used to pay for "gold-level" support from Novell but dropped the contract because he wasn't satisfied with the service.

Miller said he's now considering moving off NetWare. "We did a preliminary study that says that Windows 2000 or NT would be considerably cheaper," he said.

The announcement about the layoffs comes three weeks after Novell reported third-quarter financial results that were significantly below year-earlier levels. The company said a sharp drop in channel sales was the main contributor to that shortfall.

Rich Nortz, senior vice president of sales at Novell, said customer unhappiness at some small to midsize companies could be a result of Novell's sales channel conflict. Nortz said he reorganized the sales force a few weeks ago so channel sales representatives no longer compete with the company's own field salespeople. Novell now plans to focus its own sales initiatives on companies with more than 1,000 desktops, he said.

Many in the sales channel said they were upset by what they perceived as a move from Novell to compete with them.

"My impression is Novell tried to move to a direct sales model and they failed," said Novell reseller Allan Hurst, president of Spectrum SupportNet Inc. in Foster City, Calif. "For two years they have not paid much attention to the channel, and the channel has not paid much attention to them." Hurst said he believes Novell "got the message" and will succeed in regaining the channel's confidence.

But that may not restore some customers' goodwill. Like many other Novell users, Cathi Goncalves, information systems manager at Pennfield Corp. in Lancaster, Pa., is running older versions of the software, including NetWare 3 and NetWare 4.1. "We were thinking of upgrading to the latest version of NetWare and budgeting some money for that, [but] I have to wait and see what happens [to Novell] before investing any more money," said Goncalves.

Leakeas said he isn't likely to abandon NetWare, which he said he believes is a superior product. But, he added, "They need to do something pretty quick. They have a leadership problem."

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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