It looks like Novell (Nasdaq: NOVL ) has settled on an exit strategy. According to sources spilling a bit of beans to New York Post, the enterprise software specialist will split in two parts, with the Linux-centric segment going to one unnamed buyer and the old-line NetWare and GroupWise portions headed for another destination.
I hate to say I told you so, but this is close to what I've been asking Novell to do for the past four years. Way back in 2006, I told NetWare to drop dead or else move over to an organization that is set up to support a money-making legacy system with no growth juice left in its tank: "Spin off the Netware support or sell it to a consulting expert like IBM (NYSE: IBM ) , and go up against Red Hat (NYSE: RHT ) in a two-horse race on equal terms. That might transform Novell from an aging star, desperately clinging to past glories, into a lean and hungry specialist in a much hotter market."
Much water has passed under the bridges since then, but one thing hasn't changed: Novell needs to cut NetWare and its ilk loose in order to refocus its resources on the modern growth opportunity of SUSE Linux. But now IBM looks more likely to bid on the Linux operations than on the legacy part, which probably will end up in the hands of private equity investors and cut down to a tight support package with zero R&D budget until the end of that software's usable life.
Big Blue could fold SUSE into its AIX version of Unix or simply nurture it as a standalone product to ship with its many varieties of server hardware. It's a value-added purchase for IBM, and the company is already comfortable supporting software with an open-source pedigree.
Other prospective buyers include:
- Virtualization expert VMware (NYSE: VMW ) , where SUSE would become a preferred host and guest of the company's eponymous virtual servers.
- Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL ) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) are buying anything with a pulse these days and can never be counted out of acquisition discussions, no matter how terrible the outcome would be for the SUSE product.
- Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO ) is almost as hungry as Oracle, but Novell's Linux operations would be a much better match for Cisco's newfound love of server hardware. Oracle has Sun's Solaris software after all, not to mention its Unbreakable Linux, while Cisco has nothing remotely like it. Even if I don't like what Cisco is doing in the server space, this deal would make a twisted kind of sense.
The chop-shop affair is likely to extract a higher value out of Novell's eventual sale than shipping off the whole package to a single buyer. A deal should be signed in the next three or four weeks, and then we'll see who that masked buyer really is. My guess is IBM, but where do you see Novell ending up? Cast your vote in the Fool Poll right here, then start a discussion in the comments below.