Why VMWare Won't Follow In Novell's Footsteps

VMWare shares only surface features with Novell and won't follow the latter's path to oblivion.

Mike Fratto

July 2, 2009

4 Min Read
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David Cappuccio ponders the fate of VMWare in Just a Thought; Will VMware become the next Novell?. He compares the state of Novell at their peak in the mid 90's. They owned what we called back the network operating space. There were a ton of apps for Netware, getting certified in Netware was almost an IT requirement, and Brainshare, Novells big conference,  Cuppuccio remembers, pulled in 10,000 attendees. Cappuccio's thought experiment puts VMWare today is in much the same position. But I think there are some key differences.

Novell was the power house to be sure. The state of Novell often comes up as a cautionary tale about what can go wrong when vendors take their eye off the ball. Novell was sailing along with Netware 3.x. It was entrenched, worked, and with exception of the occasional ABEND, ran smoothly and reliably. Netware 3.x did what IT needed it to do. Then Novell ships Netware 4 and what eventually became e-directory. Novell Directory Services (NDS) was a shift so radical in the product that they lost IT in the process.

NDS was powerful  directory with ACL's, containers, objects, and  inheritance. You could easily manage huge numbers of users, 1000's or 10's of thousands easily, but no one except the largest enterprises needed those functions and couldn't be bothered to spend the time getting upto speed nor could application developers get their development processes adapted to take up the new changes. Let's face it, NDS had some issues. Users often couldn't bind to the directory, the Novell client, Client 32, was a resource hog which would break inexplicably and wouldn't uninstall cleanly making a complete computer re-install a necessary recovery step for any Client 32 problem. Those didn't help either.

Novell made a leap so large that their loyal users wouldn't, or couldn't follow. Microsoft released Winodws NT 3.1 at the same time that offered an easier user model that IT could use and backward compatibility with for 16-bit applications that didn't leverage the security model in NT. A problem what was manifested from NT to Windows Server 2000 and Active Directory, which also led to the 15+ year long myth that applications need to run as Administrator which was a problem in itself, but I digress.

VMWare, as Cappuccio points out, also shares many  of the same characteristics as Novell--90% market share( I have heard 70% bandied about. Let's say they dominate), a huge and loyal user base, mind share (admit it, when someone says virtual computing what company springs to mind?), and Microsoft is again turning the corner with a free hypervisor, Hyper-V, and Citrix may be the modern day Banyan Vines. The stage is set.But look deeper. VMWare, unlike Novell, hasn't really made any radical shifts in product line like Novell did from Netware 3.x to Netware 4. VMWare has been adding features that enhance the utility and manageability of their hypervisors like VMotion, DR, vCenter, Lifecycle Manager, and more all targeted and getting the most out of a virtual environment. Their focus is targeted. Where VMWare doesn't have expertise, they promote integration with a rich API and partner program. And VMWare nurtures and active user community through the forums, local user groups, and a wealth of documentation from technical notes to strategic architecture design.

Geeeze, I sound like a VMWare fan-boi. I'm not. I just don't see VMWare making a misstep along their evolution.  I think Novell's failure was an anomaly. I like Novell, I think they still make great products, some of them far advanced--Novell's Access Manager and Identity Manager come to mind.

I do think VMWare is going to lose desktop virtualization. If not lose, be undercut. Desktop virtualization is commodity and the requirements are less stringent than server virtualization. But I don't think VMWare will lose in the server space. Citrix has their Delivery Center and Cloud Center, both offer tightly integrated management and orchestration with Citrix other products like Netscalar.  Microsoft has the tight integration with their management tools making Hyper-V management as familiar as anything else in their world. But VMWare has partnerships with the big application delivery vendors and with the huge market share, their management tools are already well known.

VMWare is going to thrive if they continue on their course.  

About the Author(s)

Mike Fratto

Former Network Computing Editor

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