Novell can run, but it cannot hide as Microsoft inches closer to omnipotence with NT 4
Novell is getting somewhat frisky in its teenage years. Not long ago, it ignored attacks from other networking operating systems vendors. That was less a matter of turning the other cheek for the networking giant, but more a case of brushing off an irritating speck from its collar.
It's different these days. The company is all too willing to go on the offensive. One example is its circulation to the UK press of a damning report on Windows NT by 'respected independent analyst', Forrester Research.
Forrester says Windows NT is 'stretched too thin', and will fail to meet its delivery schedule. 'Microsoft is positioning NT for desktop applications, and file and print. Now it will strap on an X.500-based directory, add clustering, and re-architect the kernel to become 64-bit. NT will be tuned for the Internet. NT is in danger of becoming a bit of a kludge.'
Today Forrester says NT is 'more costly to manage than Netware and doesn't scale as well as Unix'. To counter these failings, Microsoft is turning up the PR heat to freeze customer purchases and make platform decisions for large applications and databases. It is peddling its NT to seduce IT managers into a wait-and-see-game. The longer large companies procrastinate, the more likely Microsoft is to win.
The report is meat and drink to Novell, which is struggling to ward off Microsoft's Windows NT attack dogs. It was easy for Novell to adopt a lofty pose when it raked in more than 60 per cent of all network operating systems sales. But what a difference a loss of market share makes. In May, Netware shipments through the UK channel fell below Windows NT server for the first time, according to Romtec.
Windows NT grabbed 41 per cent of channel sales, against 39 per cent for all versions of Netware. NT shipments probably carry a bigger unit value, with more versions sold, compared with Netware's high proportion of upgrades.
Microsoft has rolled out the battalions for the launch of its latest upgrade, Windows NT 4. It should hit the streets in a month. It'll have more scalability, faster performance, new management Wizards, the Windows 95 interface and faster Internet performance.
Novell is also gearing up for the latest upgrade to Netware 4, codenamed Green River, due out in the autumn. It is preparing its CNE battalions with the Green River Sneak Peak, a training programme designed to get people up to scratch from day one. Novell will no doubt farm its existing customer base with its customary proficiency. But it is fighting an upward battle against Microsoft for new business.
Forrester may release as many damning reports on NT as it likes. But it appears that many corporate customers are indifferent to the Nos platform industry debate. In the UK retail banking sector, for example, the players are adopting Windows NT en masse for their branch platforms. The sector is migrating from a ragtag collection of proprietary and Unix systems, rather than Netware. But significantly, the banks are choosing Windows NT rather than Netware.
Nat West is wading its way through a Windows NT rollout at more than 3,500 branches. National & Provincial, now folded into Abbey National, has completed a Windows NT rollout at more than 300 branches. The Halifax is to begin its Windows NT rollout in September at 1,000 branches. The Nationwide has publicly committed to Windows NT. It expects to begin its rollout next year, but is fending off purchasing decisions until the last possible moment, a move which will ensure it benefits from falling server prices.
Mark Brockbank, technology planning manager at the Halifax, says: 'Microsoft is doing in the server market with NT what it did with Windows on the desktop. Windows NT will give us maximum flexibility and will enable us to buy as many off-the-shelf applications as possible.'
Novell's decision to abandon the application server development last year could prove an error of judgement. The Halifax opted for Windows NT rather than Netware, Brockbank says, because it enabled the company to put in one Proliant server per branch to handle networking and applications.
So, the Windows NT bandwagon is gathering pace. But is the channel ready to take advantage of the opportunities? The N&P and Halifax rollouts were both won by Unisys, also a strong contender for the Nationwide contract.
In the US, Microsoft has funded large-scale Windows NT roll-outs through the channel by injecting cash into resellers in return for a short-term equity stake. Vanstar, for example, is a beneficiary of Microsoft's munificence.
Perhaps the vendor could extend its dripping wallet to worthy UK contenders.
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