A Novell Approach To Web Services

By Sean Gallagher  |  Posted 2003-05-12 Print this article Print

The humbled network giant bets its future on extending existing applications.

If there is one thing that Novell wasn't a year ago, it was a magnet for enterprise software development.

The only hook the former giant of the network operating system world had into the world of Web services development was its directory service. But even its eDirectory of the components of a network remained mostly a tool for managing user accounts.

The acquisition by Novell of Java software vendor SilverStream last summer started to change that. SilverStream's Composer and Director tools turn existing applications into Web services.

SilverStream had developed a faithful cadre of customers, but its Java application server was an also-ran in a rapidly consolidating market. Open-source software such as JBoss and Apache Software Foundation's Tomcat were eating into SilverStream's business.

The way out is Novell, which gathers its version of Web services under the "One Net" brand. By wiring together SilverStream's tools, renamed Extend, to Novell's directory management and other network services, the company opens up Web services to customers short on Java expertise.

Novell also can "extend" applications built before the advent of the Web so they can work with IBM's WebSphere, BEA's WebLogic, and Sun's SunOne application servers. The move means Novell both competes with IBM and BEA in helping companies integrate existing applications into Web services, and complements them.

Plus, if you can't afford the big players' stuff, the SilverStream application server now comes bundled with the latest version of Novell's NetWare operating system for servers organizing company networks. And the price tag of the development tools-which cost about $38,000 for one enterprise license with support-makes getting a return on investment out of them a bit easier.

Some customers already are headed Novell's way. Imperial Sugar, the Sugar Land, Texas-based refined sugar processor, had already committed to SilverStream before Novell's acquisition of the company (Baseline, March 2002, p. 59). Since the acquisition, Imperial uses Extend to let customers place orders directly from a browser.

Imperial's CIO, George Muller, says the company today takes 10% of its orders online, because it can now pump data from a Web browser into an order-entry system that used to be run by company operators tapping text into dumb IBM 3270 terminals. Muller now even evangelizes to the other 90% of Imperial's customers "that are still doing things the old-fashioned way," he says. He sends each a 7-minute multimedia CD that shows them how to use a browser to enter orders themselves. Imperial has tightened its relationship with key customers that use Imperial's self-service applications to help them run with "just-in-time" inventory. Customers can place electronic orders for sugar, track their delivery, and even check a Web service tied into the Imperial application, called Steel Roads, to locate the railroad boxcar carrying their order minute-by-minute.

Novell hopes that other companies like Imperial will embrace its technology with such passion. But it's not holding its breath.

"Business is awful," says Chris Stone, Novell's vice chairman. David Litwack, the former CEO of SilverStream and now a senior vice president at Novell, agrees. "Nobody's doing new things. There's an aversion to newness in the market right now."

Novell lost $246 million on $1.1 billion in annual sales in 2002, after losing $278 million on a billion in sales the year before; the company's sales in the quarter ended in January of this year were off 7% from a year ago. With its stock below $3 a share, its biggest challenge may just be getting people to notice it's still in business.

If technology spending doesn't snap back, the change in course might not be enough to push Novell over the top. But any plan is better than no plan at all.

Sean Gallagher is technology editor of Baseline magazine. He can be reached at Sean_gallagher@ziffdavis.com

Sean Gallagher is editor of Ziff Davis Internet's enterprise verticals group. Previously, Gallagher was technology editor for Baseline, before joining Ziff Davis, he was editorial director of Fawcette Technical Publications' enterprise developer publications group, and the Labs managing editor of CMP's InformationWeek. A former naval officer and former systems integrator, Gallagher lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland.

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