I knew that I would have to write this blog at some point in 2010, but I didn’t know when.
Attachmate’s acquisition of Novell for $2.2B signals the end to an era. Novell represents one of the original key players in the network operating system and identity management period from the early 1990s until today. In fact, one could make an interesting case that the company made Microsoft what it is today through the early market battle between Novell NetWare and Microsoft Windows Server. We all know how that battle ended, but in the long run Windows Server was a better product because of it.
Novell had significant and continued influence on many vendors, ranging from the identity and access management to the Linux market, from email to virtualization, and of course security. In most of those cases the company made a good to excellent showing of technology and was quick to improve upon it and in some cases to outpace its competitors both in terms of vision and architecture.
But not in execution.
Each time there were innovations to be parleyed into market share, the execution failed to materialize. There were a number of causes: timing, marketing, acquisition missteps, and others. It often seemed to be the wrong place at the wrong time, or experienced a confluence of bad partners and bad economies. When it seemed that they might be able to recover from these ‘curses’, another would take its place.
But what remained consistent throughout most of Novell’s existence was by and large the technical quality of most of its products. In spite of considerable turnover throughout the ranks of the company over the past decade, product quality and innovation remained consistent. That could not be said of the legendary Novell customer support, which suffered over the past years following the Cambridge Technology Partner acquisition and subsequent divestiture. While a services partnership change was the right thing to do, execution again led to some problems with that support.
Many decisions will lie ahead for Attachmate, including product positioning and branding, management restructuring, possible division sales. It will be a period of transition for the Novell employee and the Novell faithful.
What is clear is that the breadth and number of customers ensures that many of the products will live on in an Attachmate universe– if they stay there. For IAM, a world-class directory, provisioning, access management, and SIEM portfolio (among other elements) will continue for its customers, though you may expect some delays in feature updates while organization, product engineering and product management concerns within Attachmate are worked out. Of course, I thought that way with many of Sun’s solutions until they were acquired by Oracle. But this is not an aquisition that has such broad product overlaps. It affords Novell products a greater chance at survival.
The final irony of the announcement is that CPTN Holdings is a consortium of technology companies organized by Microsoft! So $450 million of Novell IP is likely to make its way through CPTN to Microsoft. It isn’t yet clear what that IP is, but it will be revealed in the days ahead. If that isn’t ironic enough, Attachmate is backed by private equity firms Francisco Partners, Golden Gate Capital and Thoma Bravo. Attachmate’s offer of $6.10 per share followed the $5.75 a share offer earlier in the year by investment firm Elliott Management Corporation, one of Novell’s largest shareholders. Novell rejected that offer then, but as part of this deal, Elliott is to become an equity shareholder in Attachmate. One way or another, Elliott participated in the final phases of Novell’s acquisition.