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Everybody wants a piece of the former Sun Microsystems, now the server, storage, and operating system arm of software giant Oracle. And starting today, that list of piranhas swimming after Sun includes struggling commercial Linux distributor and systems software maker Novell.

Sun's customers have been jumpy for so long that the condition must seem normal, and channel partners who were promised lots of things by Sun are wondering what they are going to get out of Oracle. Oracle is not providing comfort about its future server, operating system, and identity management software plans. That means no detailed product roadmaps with some gee-whiz features outlined and some breadth and depth in the lineup.

Oracle is hosting global briefings on June 29 and 30 for PartnerNetwork partners to talk about talk about the company's channel plans for database, applications, middleware, server, and storage. Maybe the Oracle top brass will be more chatty about what its plans are then. Oracle has been looking in-depth at the Sun business since early 2009, and that is more than enough time to create and articulate a coherent plan. HP came to the Compaq announcement in 2000 with converged roadmaps in hand, by contrast.

In any event, Novell needs to capitalize on the uncertainty around Oracle's plans for the Sun lineup and at the same time shore up its own struggling Linux business on servers and identity management software. Ironically, Novell, which put itself into play after it rejected a $1bn (net) takeover offer from a hedge fund named Elliott Associates.

Novell is rumored to have more than 20 companies looking over its books and product lines, and in its fiscal second quarter ended in April, the company's top brass said that the Linux business dipped and identity and security management software also took a hit as customers were wary because Novell was in play. Customers are understandably antsy about making long-term platform commitments when they aren't sure what their vendor is going to do with itself. Given this, it is hard to imagine why jumpy Sun shops would go to Novell at this point.

But you can't fault Novell for trying. Customers with perpetual licenses to Sun's identity and security products are being given freebie licenses to equivalent Novell products under the Sun migration program announced today. Specifically, shops using Sun Identity Manager can swap it for Novell's Identity Manager plus the roles-based provisioning and enterprise integration modules for this tool. (This is the older Identity Manager 3.6, not the future 4.0 release that went into beta two weeks ago and due in the third quarter).

Those using Sun Role Manager get Novell's Access Governance Suite for free, those using Sun Open SSO get Novell Access Manager, and those using Sun Directory Server Enterprise Edition get Novell eDirectory. Customers swapping from Sun to Novell products do have to pay for maintenance support on the Novell products.

With a Solaris-to-Linux offering, it gets a bit tricky since both are open source products that were free (at least for entry and midrange x64 boxes). Novell only makes Linux server money by selling SUSE Linux Enterprise Server support contracts, just like Sun did for Solaris 10, which was distributed freely on two-socket and smaller machines. (Solaris 10 was bundled on Sun's own iron, so it is hard to say how revenues for Solaris support might have been allocated).

To help sweeten the move from Solaris to Linux on servers, Novell is offering up free Solaris-to-Linux migration assessments (to "qualified customers," of course, which Novell did not qualify in its announcement) and a trail version of its PlateSpin Recon Inventory Edition. This program can be used to sniff out Solaris systems and help system admins put together a migration plan to move the work to Linux machines, either virtual or physical. Novell is also giving away free training aimed at Solaris admins who are trying to learn the SLES ropes and migration assistance to help them make the jump.

While this is all well and good, Novell could get really creative and actually give customers a price break on SLES support contracts to really encourage them to jump from Solaris. Considering how Solaris is a very good operating system, and one that customers get zealous about, Novell is going to have to do more than give away some training and migration assistance tools to move Solaris shops, even if the applications they use only require modest changes to make the jump from Solaris to Unix. Think applications written in Java and running atop an Oracle database. Both Java and Oracle run on both platforms, albeit differently. Moving over a set of C++ applications is whole lot less trivial.

The bigger the gap that Novell wants Sun shops to jump, the higher the monetary voltage has to be. And Novell can't afford to be generous any more than it can afford to not get out there and try to win over some Sun shops. ®

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