Blog post

The End of an Era: Attachmate Acquires Novell

By Earl Perkins | November 22, 2010 | 2 Comments

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.

Comments are closed


  • Steve says:

    As a customer, a sad day for sure! As you mentioned their IDM suite was best in class, we looked at all of them! The fact that I couldn’t get to Attachmate’s web site for most of the morning scares me. Are these folks up to the task of keeping Novell’s good assets alive? And if MS owns ALL of the patents what does that say about the future of any of the products? Sure they may license them back, but the fact that Attachmate isn’t keeping them worries me.

  • former Novell customer says:

    I have relied on Novell products for much of my professional life. I have always argued, justifiably, that they are the best tools for the job. Regardless of poor marketing decisions the company made over the years and the scant documentation that often accompanied software, I knew the products were worth the additional effort needed to implement and that effort always paid off in terms of reliability, functionality and security for my users and my network. However strong this loyalty might have been, the profound confusion and deep uncertainty created by the Novell Board of Directors (BoD) both in their decision to sell the company and in the protracted time it is taking to see where the various products we use will end up and who will continue to support them has created an untenable situation. I need to know with certainty who will be supporting the products that we rely upon in our enterprise.

    I have processed the pro-forma invoice you sent. I’ll scan the check and send you an electronic copy before mailing it. But because the Novell BOD decision has resulted in a situation where there is no clear continuity of support for all Novell products, this will be the last renewal check. My responsibilities to my organization and my users outweigh any loyalty to Novell.

    I am saddened that the Novell BOD has chosen to ignore the loyalty of its users in its quest for an “exit strategy” from the business. So I will continue to make certain my organization and users are provided the best tools available by companies that stand behind their products. And given this weak economy, I hope that you and your colleagues at Novell find gainful employment in very short order after the dissolution of Novell. Many people have been predicting the demise of Novell for over 15 years. I have argued that the quality of the products sold by Novell, the ingenuity of the people who create them and the skill of the people who support them would keep Novell going. It seems that everyone believes that except Novell itself, or its BoD.