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3/25/2009
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Novell Bullish On Linux In Economic Downturn

CEO Ron Hovsepian is betting R&D dollars that Linux will be "the Wal-Mart of IT," he said in his keynote at the Open Source Business Conference.

Ron Hovsepian, president and CEO of Novell, said that in a year in which the economy may shrink by 5%, Linux will see an expansion of its role in the data center.

"I believe open source will be the largest beneficiary of the downturn. This will be driven by the customer," said Hovsepian, in an opening keynote for the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco on Tuesday. He cited a survey conducted for Novell by IDC that found 72% of respondents either evaluating or planning an increase in their use of Linux; 49% said Linux will be their number one operating system for new server deployments in the next five years.

Sam Ramji, head of the open source labs that do compatibility testing at Microsoft and in San Francisco to attend OSBC as well, countered such claims by pointing out that Microsoft's own surveys show Windows Server on 72% of x86 servers in the data center, and that figure was up 0.5% in 2008 over 2007. In other words, Linux may be growing, but it's not growing at the expense of Windows, so far.

In his keynote, Hovsepian continued, "Linux is going to be the Wal-Mart of IT. It will be ubiquitous," at a price point that the competition can't match, he said.

"I'm investing 20% of revenues now in R&D because we expect this market to grow," he added. Most companies Novell's size invest 14% of revenue, he noted.

Novell is host to the Mono open source project, which in October released the 2.0 version of its development framework that enables Microsoft's C# and .Net technologies to run on Linux. The leader of the project, Miguel de Icaza, is a VP of development at Novell. Hovsepian said Novell has "fully embedded Mono support" in its SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 (SLES 11), which became available Tuesday. Game producing companies have been early adopters of Mono. It allows Windows developers to use their familiar Visual Studio tools to produce applications for Linux.

"We expect Mono use to come over to the enterprise as well," Hovsepian said.

He said Novell is working on improving manageability of the data center by supporting the new Xen 3.3 open source hypervisor in SLES 11. "Virtualization allows me to move virtual machines around but it doesn't tell me how to move them or where they are. There's no intelligence packaged with it," he said. Novell is working on adding that intelligence through tools for building virtual machines, managing them and measuring their capabilities.

Doing so will give IT managers "the underpinnings of a service-driven data center," or the ability to create services that consist of servers running user applications. "We're putting those three pieces together," he promised.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux is already a featured operating system in the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). SLES 11 will be certified to run there shortly as well. New virtualization management tools "will be a way the customer builds a workload and decides where he would like it to run," in the data center or in an external cloud, Hovsepian said. No timeframe was mentioned for delivery of the virtualization management tools.

On another subject, Hovsepian acknowledged that Novell's patent agreement with Microsoft in November 2006 had generated more criticism than he had anticipated. Microsoft promised not to sue Novell customers for using Linux, even though it was claiming its patents had been violated in the Linux development process. It also issued $240 million in coupons to Novell customers for SLES technical support. Novell said recently that it collected $199 million worth of the coupons.

"Our Microsoft arrangement caught a lot of noise and flack," said Hovsepian. "I wish I had communicated its value more clearly to the community. But I did get one thing right. Ninety-seven percent of our customers said they will have Windows in their environment for the foreseeable future," and they wanted the two companies to work on compatibility between Windows and Linux, he said, another feature of the agreement.


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