An interesting history, a commendable innovation culture, dynamic talent, interesting projects—obviously, there is also a lot to look forward to from the Novell India Development Centre.
Think Novell. What comes to your mind? Perhaps you are immediately reminded of all the heated discussions (and criticism) in the media and by activists, about Novell ‘betraying’ the open source world by shaking hands with Microsoft last year to improve interoperability between open source and proprietary software.
But beyond such perceptions is a company that innovates constantly, come what may, to make life easier for the 50,000+ enterprises that it serves with its open source operating system platform and software. Here is a company whose ongoing research in interoperability, operating system and server technologies, resource management, identity management, disaster recovery etc, is likely to make life even better for its clients.
Chak de, India!
What makes us proud is that India has played, and continues to play, a major role in this success story! The 13-year young Novell India Development Centre (Novell IDC) based in Bangalore is Novell’s largest engineering lab outside the US. Interestingly, the Novell IDC has grown in strength by around 70 per cent this year, making the Bangalore team as large as the largest of Novell’s engineering locations, in Provo, Utah.
The Bangalore team focuses mainly on open source technologies for e-mail, calendars and address books, and on the operating system, server and network management technologies for enterprise-wide systems, resource management, and identity and security management domains. Unlike the India chapters of many multinational companies, where most research and development happens as ‘part’ of some bigger feature or product, Novell IDC owns ‘end-to-end’ engineering responsibility for several key Novell products and technologies. There are other products where the Bangalore and the US teams each have defined ownerships and full responsibility for specific modules of the overall product.
Teams at Novell IDC contribute to award-winning Novell products and R&D, leading to several innovations, product initiatives and patents. Of Novell’s current portfolio of over 320 patents, Novell IDC alone has contributed 14 patents.
As a performance-driven organisation with progressive HR practices, Novell’s work culture fosters innovation, and ensures that professionals achieve high levels of creativity in their work as well as in their life. Its employees work on exciting product roadmaps, and get end-to-end exposure in developing world-class products.
“Innovation is a key part of Novell’s culture, one of the core values that form the foundation of our business. To foster and encourage innovative thinking throughout the organisation, we conduct various programs for employees. These initiatives allow us to deliver innovative and competitive products to the market,” says Naresh Shah, managing director, Novell IDC, Bangalore.
Let us look at some interesting products that have emerged out of the Novell IDC in the recent past.
Reveal thy identity: Novell’s work in the identity management space is significant. The Novell Identity Manager (IDM) helps manage ‘user lifecycles’. Organisations today run many disparate information systems, each with different user accounts, operating with different data formats, schemas and APIs. Employees operate user accounts across many such systems. Adding, removing or modifying user identity information synchronously across the many systems can be quite a tough task, considering that it is very difficult to make such disparate systems cooperate! Manually adding or removing data from each system is not an alternative either, as it is far from efficient—nor is it easy, since identity data goes beyond just employee information, and includes various objects, devices and rights.
Novell IDM provides a way to manage employee information and identity for all types of objects (printers, groups, directories, etc) automatically across multiple systems. It achieves this by unifying a user’s identity information throughout all systems, which boils down to one user, one identity, many applications, yet one point of control! Beyond the obvious advantages, it also improves security by making the assignment and modification of access rights easy. By enabling your systems to coordinate on a common platform, it also enables a ‘link’ between your applications, through which they can share critical data and can function in a more coordinated fashion.
And design it too: The Novell Identity Management Designer enables consultants to visually model an IDM deployment. They can graphically lay out systems and the flow of identity information. What is more, deployment information can also be documented at the click of a button!
Remembering passwords? Forget it: One of the most interesting identity management tools developed by Novell is SecureLogin. It enables users to have a single sign-on access to thousands of applications, including websites, Windows applications, Java applications, terminal emulators, etc. Basically, SecureLogin’s ‘Single Sign-On’ stores all of a user’s usernames and passwords. Users have to just log in once to their network, and thereafter Single Sign-On enters the username and password automatically for all other services that they access—no more having to remember umpteen usernames and passwords. SecureLogin can use Novell’s eDirectory, Microsoft’s ADAM (Active Directory Application Mode), and other LDAP v3 directories. It also supports most types of smart card, token-based, and biometric authentication.
One folder to store them all: It is one thing to run multiple operating systems across a network, or even in the same computer, but another (much tougher) thing to get these to share data across their rather hostile filesystems! Novell iFolder is an innovative, filesystem-agnostic, client-server architecture-based software storage solution that enables Linux, Windows and Macintosh users to share, synchronise, encrypt and back up files and folders online. This gives the users freedom to deploy any operating system on their PCs, assured that they can still transact data with others in the organisation. Authorised users can also access their data from anywhere, anytime.
Zen and the art of resource management: Novell’s ZENWorks Linux Management tool allows centralised management and control of Linux desktops and servers. It uses policy-driven automation to deploy, manage and maintain Linux resources. You can control not just workstation and server settings, but even applications. The ZENWorks product line also includes the Handheld Management tool, with which you can update, manage and control handhelds like the BlackBerry, the Palm OS or Pocket PC-based PDAs. This line also features the Virtual Machine Management tool (which makes it very easy to implement virtualisation in data centres across platforms like Windows, Linux and UNIX) and the Orchestrator (which helps to manage physical compute and storage resources, and the relationships between them). The ZENWorks Configuration Management tool simplifies Windows Vista migration. It ports ‘imaging and personality’ features across platforms, enabling you to retain users’ personal desktops and application settings during migration and upgrades. ZENWorks is one of the hot products that Novell IDC teams are working on at the moment.
Solving more problems for us
The Novell IDC has been researching solutions to two major problems faced by the storage industry today: the exponential growth of data, particularly user content, and the proliferation of data across the globe. Engineers at Novell IDC are focusing on solution bundles that can create value for customers by combining technologies such as end user data recovery, ‘snapshotting’, distributed filesystems and the latest dynamic storage technology.
Coupled with multi-protocol, multi-platform access, these solutions can be combined to provide the advantages of a low-cost hierarchical management solution that can be driven by end-user data.
Novell Bangalore is also looking at next-generation disaster recovery solutions, which focus on recovering content and services, not just bits and blocks of data—thereby making user content available anywhere, anytime, even when disaster strikes.
Another interesting project is an effort by Novell to reduce complexity for its clients—the new Novell Domain Services (NDS) for Windows will first appear in Novell Open Enterprise Server 2. NDS supports seamless cross-authentication between Windows Active Directory environments and SLES (SUSE Linux Enterprise Server) eDirectory server environments for file and print services. By making the Linux servers appear as if they are Active Directory servers, NDS enables customers to make use of the power of Novell’s Linux-based file and print services at the back-end, even as they continue using their native Windows clients in the front-end.
We have only seen the tip of the iceberg. There is much more happening at Novell’s engineering lab in Bangalore, and much more that is likely to happen—considering the dynamic innovation culture that prevails, and the happy looks on the faces of the researchers and evelopers!
Novell first came to life in the US in 1979 as Novell Data Systems, manufacturing printers, computer hardware, personal computers and disk operating systems. But very soon, the company changed focus and created a market for hardware and software products for corporate data networks. The NetWare operating system (OS), Novell’s first big hit, held around 70 per cent of the server OS market in the early 90s. The journey continued, with the development of more technologies, such as Novell Directory Services (eDirectory) and the acquisition of companies such as Ximian and SUSE Linux.
Today, Novell is a world leader in enterprise infrastructure software, providing solutions and support to over 50,000 enterprises in 43 countries. It provides an open source operating system platform with cross-platform systems management; rigorous security, identity and access management solutions; plus the required professional services, taking care of an enterprise’s needs from the desktop, right up to the data centre.
Keeping the brains ticking
Innovation is not a one-time activity, but a culture that needs to be fostered so that it benefits both employees and the organisation. Novell’s innovation-related initiatives are in line with this belief:
• The Recognise and Celebrate Employees (RACE) Awards is a framework that encourages and rewards informed risk-taking. It recognises and celebrates employees’ efforts through multiple channels, whether something as simple as a Spontaneous Breakaway award for an individual’s daily activities or a more formal quarterly award for an individual’s contribution to a particular project.
• Novell’s open source internship programme (NOSIP) aims to foster open source initiatives amongst the student community in India. “We started this program in December 2003 and have got a large number of patches submitted by a lot of student contributors,” says Parag Goel, senior manager—Software Engineering, Novell IDC.
• Novell’s annual worldwide conference, Brainshare, provides a platform for teams to showcase their work, as well as share ideas with others.
• ‘Hack Weeks’ are also organised periodically. During these events, participating teams are encouraged to focus on innovation—they could work on any pet project that they have long wanted to, explore a new idea, scratch the surface of a potentially disruptive product or project idea, and so on. Prizes are given away for the best project, the funniest project, etc.