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Attachmate buyout of Novell raises eyebrows

Novell announced on November 22, 2010 that it has accepted a $2.2 billion buyout offer from Seattle-based Attachmate. Microsoft is involved in the purchase of some IP. Industry watchers wonder what this means for SUSE Linux support.

Novell Inc. has found a home with Attachmate, but that news seems to have raised more questions than it answered.

A half dozen Novell customers and partners contacted for comment all were amazed to hear the name of the acquiring party. “Who?” they all asked. Some with expletives added.

Asked what he thought of the news announced Monday morning, Gregg Rosenberg, CEO of RICIS, Inc., a Tinley Park, Ill. integrator who has been watching Novell carefully said: “I can sum it up in two words. Stunned and confused.”

While Attachmate is the buyer of record, other Novell intellectual property—unnamed in announcement—will flow to CPTN Holdings, LLC, a consortium including Microsoft and “other technology companies.”  Payment for that IP will be $450 million in cash when the larger $2.2-billion-in-cash Attachmate deal closes.

Attachmate Corp. which specializes in mainframe connectivity software as well as NetIQ Windows management software, was not among the many names bandied about in the Novell rumor mill which has been going full throttle for more than a year. VMware was often mentioned as a likely buyer, especially after VMware said in June that it would standardize on Novell SUSE Linux technology  for its virtual appliances.

Some who saw VMware as a natural fit think Novell asked too much. “I think they held out for too high a price on SUSE,”said one Novell watcher. He also theorized that Novell then went to Linux leader Red Hat about a sale but once VMware bowed out, Red Hat lost interest. “And then Novell was stuck,” he said. 

Other talk centered on IBM or Microsoft buying Novell, although skeptics point out that IBM is also closely allied with Red Hat and would want to stay out of internecine Linux battles. And given Microsoft’s strength in server operating systems, a buyout of the Novell SUSE Linux line could raise eyebrows among regulators.

The fact that Novell ended up selling for just over $2.2 billion in cash after spurning a $2 billion offer from Elliott Partners last march, leads many observers to say Novell overplayed its hand, asking too much of VMware or other suitors for the SUSE business.

Microsoft’s role in SUSE sale questioned
“My gut instinct is that behind the scenes, Microsoft has finagled this deal such that they end up with SUSE intellectual property,” said Rosenberg. Microsoft and Novell have deals in place to assure Windows-Linux interoperability. He also noted that there is concern about how support around Novell’s non-SUSE products will be handled going forward

For now, Attachmate and Novell have to reassure customers and partners that the SUSE brand is safe and well funded, several Linux shops said.

But, there is a lot of mystery surrounding the CPTN Holdings LLP piece of the deal. What piece parts of Novell technology are going there and what does that mean to SUSE in general?

Novell/Attachmate  have to worry about what Red Hat, Canonical and other  Linux companies will say  about the future of SUSE, said Frank Basanta, COO of System Solutions, a New York-based IT consultancy that works with Novell SUSE.  Those companies will try to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt, he said.

Others said that Attachmate must go into Novell  and clean house.  “There are still a lot of long-time Novell people there pulling down huge salaries that haven’t done anything in years, “ another Linux partner said.

Barbara Darrow is senior news director of the SearchDataCenter/Virtualization group at TechTarget.
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