The NWC Interview: Novell's Ron Hovsepian

Hovsepian talks about managing the company through a CEO transition, and how Novell can best serve customers by focusing on open systems.

September 29, 2006

3 Min Read
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Ron HovsepianCEO, Novell

You took over as Novell's chief executive in June, after Jack Messman was forced out amid lower-than-expected sales and earnings. What's your No. 1 priority?

To keep the company focused on what the customer is trying to get done, and then make sure our products and services are in complete alignment with that. We also have to make sure we're getting the right financial returns for our shareholders.

Neither Eric Schmidt, who was Novell's CEO for a time, nor Messman, were able to put the company on a sustained growth path. What will you bring that they didn't have?

We've really spent a lot of time looking at what customers are trying to do inside their environments around open source. So if you look at our SUSE Linux product as an example, that's been designed for enterprise-class computing, from the desktop to the data center. That's very different, and it's being driven by our customers.Novell's sales of Linux products, including the SUSE line, are a fraction of those of Red Hat, the market leader. Is Red Hat's lead insurmountable?

It's a good question. The $12 million we did in Linux sales in our most recent quarter was against approximately $40 million at Red Hat. But what's more important, from my point of view, is where the market's going. Red Hat's done a nice job capturing the edge server. We're starting at the enterprise and focusing on enterprise-class computing, building in virtualization capabilities, the Xen virtualization technologies that our customers want, a full six months ahead of Red Hat.

NetWare and GroupWise are two proprietary product lines whose popularity have declined, and which don't seem to fit your new thrust of open systems. What's your strategy there?

Open Enterprise Server, our follow-up to NetWare, takes the great functions that were built on top of NetWare and moves them to Linux. OES allows our customers to make an orderly migration into the Linux environment, yet get the enterprise-class file, print and other capabilities that NetWare brought.

The good news with GroupWise is we've already shipped that on top of SUSE. We were the first enterprise-class collaboration engine on a Linux platform.

Sales of your identity- and access-management products are growing even faster than your Linux sales. How strategic to your future are Novell Identity Manager and Access Manager?Customers are dealing with the need to manage employees' connection to applications, and the access, authentication and provisioning of those employees. That's a critical market to us that also links in nicely with our strategy to build more management services on top of heterogeneous environments. And with 46 percent increases, it's a great growth market.

Since becoming CEO, you've alluded to the virtues of inorganic growth. Where would you be looking to make acquisitions?

In open source, we think there's an opportunity to help our customers in chosen environments. That's about as deep as I can go into where we will make acquisitions.

Do you look to any tech companies for inspiration as you try to reinvent Novell?

What Mark Hurd is doing at HP, I think, is a good example of bringing more focus to a business. IBM [where I worked for 17 years] is another good example of changing the business model of a company by simplifying what you're trying to get done for your customers.• Podcast: right click to download the complete interview

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