What happened to Novell? Once upon a time, computers were like islands in the ocean: separate and disconnected. Then a Utah company called Novell created a reliable way for them to communicate and share files that revolutionized the workplace! The network was born and staff productivity soared!

Few today know who Novell was, but we still benefit from their inventive engineering. What can solution providers, IT professionals, and churches learn from Novell’s story?

Some Novell History

Novell developed the technology to reliably connect computers and share data on any PC running on an Intel processor. There were competitors, of course, but none of them could keep up with the engineering and strategies Novell pioneered in its networking product, NetWare. It was innovative! Then they developed a global directory service (NDS), an email system (GroupWise), and a security proxy server (BorderManager). It made networking powerful, dependable, and safe for companies of any size.

A few years after Novell changed the structure of their networks by adding the global directory service, Microsoft decided to enter the networking game. Microsoft created similar products to Novell’s, like Active Directory and Exchange. By 2000 Microsoft was pulling companies away from Novell’s solutions.

Why Does This Matter?

Novell’s NetWare was a superior product for years, but Microsoft won! What happened? There are lessons to be learned for solution providers, for IT professionals, and for churches in looking at what happened to Novell.

Lessons to Solution Providers

When Microsoft decides to compete head on, it often wins. The companies that pioneer solutions which propel the IT industry in new directions are always at risk from Microsoft— even if Microsoft’s solutions are not fully matched in quality for many years. Novell is an example, as was Lotus 123 and WordPerfect. The only way to survive competing with Microsoft is to continue to innovate, and to market at a ridiculously high level to keep people’s imaginations pointed your way.

We’re seeing history begin to repeat itself with hypervisor technology. VMware, similar to Novell, pioneered the hypervisor, which allows a physical server to become a host to multiple virtual servers. VMware had about 71% of the market in 2016 (down about 3% from the previous year) and is currently the foundation for most of the cloud. Microsoft’s hypervisor (Hyper-V) is currently about 23%, and Citrix’s Zen is about 6%.

The question is: What is VMware doing to keep IT professionals focused on their solutions? They continue to innovate, but are being heard from and talked about less and less in the marketplace. VMware needs to change its posture and recapture the imagination of the marketplace if it is going to survive.

Lessons to IT Professionals

IT professionals tend to focus their expertise on specific platforms and solutions because they know how to make them work well. IT professionals once argued the merits of Novell NetWare vs Microsoft Windows Server. NetWare is rarely seen anymore. (My firm’s last client running a Novell NetWare network finally transitioned to Windows Server in 2016. They kept NetWare in place because it just kept working! But it was no longer supported; a decision needed to be made.) IT professionals used to argue the merits of WordPerfect vs Microsoft Word, and of Lotus 123 vs Excel, too!

Now IT professionals argue the merits of VMware ESXi vs Microsoft Hyper-V.

IT professionals need to constantly stay aware of new technologies and shifting trends. Any IT professional who decides to doggedly stay with a hardware platform or solution has put a horizon on their career. The discipline to stay aware of new technologies and shifting trends requires constant vigilance, humility, and flexibility.

Lessons to Churches & Ministries

Churches can rarely afford to become hardware and software development labs for companies hoping to become the next Microsoft. When looking for a solution, choose maturing and proven technologies. Avoid the bleeding edge and stay just behind the leading edge. Doing so will deliver acquisition and implementation savings, and improve team effectiveness.

There are always folks ready to tell you what new solution or platform you should move to, but do your due diligence before agreeing. Research how IT professionals perceive the maturity of the option you’re considering, and check its market trend. Many technologies have entered the marketplace that had terrific promise, yet they were left in the tech-dust as the industry went in another direction.