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Tucked into Novell’s announcement last week that it was acquiring Suse for $210 million was a paragraph that got little attention in the press but a lot of attention among Novell’s channel partners.

“Novell today also announced that IBM intends to make a $50 million investment in Novell convertible preferred stock. In addition, Novell and IBM are negotiating extensions to the current commercial agreements between IBM and Suse Linux for the continued support of Suse Linux on IBM’s eServer products and middleware products to provide for product and marketing support arrangements related to Suse Linux. Both of these agreements will be effective when the acquisition of Suse Linux by Novell is completed.”

The joint embrace of Suse Linux, pairing Novell’s channel with IBM Global Services, the world’s largest channel organization, as champions of Linux solutions presents a powerful marketing alliance that raises Linux’s credibility in the enterprise and promises a level of enterprise support that was heretofore unavailable for the operating system. Novell partners look to that additional support–and the credibility it brings to enterprise sales—to catapult Novell back into a position of market dominance and allow it to make a run at Redhat’s position as the Number 1 Linux distribution.

Novell partners I talked to were buoyed by the prospect of increased enterprise sales presented by last week’s announcement.
Support, said Tim Finnegan, Novell Business Development manager for AlphaNumeric Systems, a certified Novell Platinum partner in Raleigh, NC., is key to the enterprise sale.

Finnegan said that since Novell’s acquisition of Ximian in August he’s seen “marked increase in the number of inquiries in Linux and in awareness of the possibilities of open source. Generally people are taking it much more seriously than they were six to nine months ago.”

But even as interest grew, he said, the lack of enterprise support remained a barrier to selling Linux solutions.

“What our customers always struggled with was the lack of support,” said Finnegan. “They would ask us ‘where is the enterprise-wide support that we’re used to getting from our other vendors? Do I really want to stake my business on it? Who is going to be there to help us with it? If I’m going to put more and more of my business on Linux, who’s going to staff a 24X7 help desk?”

Enterprise customers, said Ron Ben-Yishay, senior vice president of sales for the Mid-Atlantic Region of Dyntek, a $70 million solutions provider based in Irvine, Ca., have long recognized the inherent stability of Linux over Windows “but they tell us ‘if I don’t have enterprise wide support, it doesn’t matter; I can’t afford to go that path.’ Now they can.”

With IBM and Novell both solidly in the Linux camp, enterprise clients are now assured of the support they need. From a marketing standpoint, Ben-Yishay believes, the Suse acquisition positions Novell to make a run at Redhat which has the largest Linux distribution.

IBM Global Services is the world’s largest channel organization. Novell’s partner program is one of the industry’s oldest and its partners were energized this year by reforms in the partner program in which Novell sweetened incentives and increased its reliance on partners over its direct sales channel.

“When you look at ‘feet on the street’ as a method of spreading the message, it gives them a decided competitive edge (over Redhat),” said Ben-Yishay.