Tech Industry

BrainShare 2001: A Novell odyssey

Didn't get a chance to attend BrainShare 2001? If you're wondering what you missed, Ron Nutter, frequent TechProGuild contributing editor and BrainShare presenter, tells you what he saw.

Don’t let the news articles about Novell fool you. Novell is here to stay, and if what I saw at BrainShare 2001 was any indication, the number of the faithful has increased. With the round of layoffs that occurred last year and the change in direction in terms of product focus that Novell recently announced, many people have been concerned about Novell’s future. For those network professionals who attended the conference, there was no doubt that Novell is here for the long term.

According to a recent TechProGuild poll, most of you missed BrainShare 2001. If you didn’t get a chance to attend BrainShare 2001, in this Daily Drill Down, I’ll give you a brief overview of what I saw as both an attendee and a presenter. I’ll show you what you missed, how things differed from previous years, and whether you should think about going to the next BrainShare conference.

Going places
Novell has become, in its words, “a company that eats their own dog food.” Novell used its own technology again this year for the conference registration and learned another lesson in scalability in the process.

For the third year in a row, Novell broke opening-day records in conference registration. After a brief stumble at the start, the registration process accommodated almost 8,000 conference attendees. (The final numbers were not available at the time this article was written.) The increase in attendance was not limited to the technical crowd. Almost 80 members of the press from Europe and other parts of the world were in attendance to see what Novell has planned for the coming year.

If you attended BrainShare 2000, you probably remember the smart cards that Novell used to replace the ticket system to admit attendees to sessions. (Novell used these cards at BrainShare conferences around the world, including BrainShare Europe in Nice, France, and Salt Lake City.) You probably also remember the long lines that could occur as the cards were processed to allow entry into the sessions.

This year, Novell made a minor change to the smart cards. The company initially worked to get the card readers to run at a faster speed to minimize the seemingly eternal waits. With continual tweaking of the software used in the handheld readers, Novell realized that the system simply couldn’t process admittance to the sessions in a timely manner.

Novell’s solution to the matter couldn’t have been more successful, though. Novell abandoned the cards with the embedded chips and switched to the proven technology of cards with magnetic stripes on them. Doing so allowed attendees to walk right up to a small vertical kiosk and swipe their cards through the card reader slot. Each of these kiosks were connected into the BrainShare network, so a change made in a schedule at a kiosk would be reflected in the system in the few minutes it took to get to the session in question. Within a second or two, the attendee would know if he or she could get in or would have to wait until all those who had previously registered for the session had entered before he or she could get in. After the attendees reached the location of the session, they would just have to reswipe their card to confirm their registration with the attendant.

The expanded Salt Palace
If there was ever a year that Novell needed more space for the BrainShare conference, this was it. Though delayed in completion by a tornado that went through the Salt Lake area just weeks before BrainShare, the additions to the Salt Palace were still able to be used for the conference. And believe me, they were a welcome addition this year. The Salt Palace expansion did more than just allow for more session rooms. It also meant that the cafeteria that served the BrainShare faithful could be moved to a more central location. The additional space also allowed the Hot Labs put on by the folks at NetWare Users International (NUI) to be moved out of the Marriott Hotel across the street from the Salt Palace and into the Salt Palace itself (along with the rest of the BrainShare daily activities).

Another benefactor of the additional space at BrainShare this year was the Tech Lab. There was more room for Novell and other vendors to show their wares. (Yet, it still seemed like there were traffic jams at some of the booths.) A popular change this year was having the Tech Lab open during one night of the show instead of going on the proverbial FunDome excursion. This allowed the attendees to go to more sessions instead of having to skip sessions just to see some of the booths in the Tech Lab.

Changes at the Novell helm
Just hours before BrainShare was to start, it was announced that Jack Messman, currently CEO of Cambridge Technology Partners, would assume the position of CEO of Novell once the merger between Novell and Cambridge Technology completed. Messman has been on the board of directors of Novell for some time. From a presentation given during one of the keynote sessions, it appears that Messman’s history with Novell goes back to the day when Novell was known as Novell Data Systems and Ray Noorda was brought on board as the CEO of what would become known as Novell, Inc.

I heard more than one group of attendees questioning why Novell would buy a company that was losing money and appoint the CEO of that company to be its new CEO. A lot of support was expressed for the previous CEO, Eric Schmidt, and the job he has done at and for Novell since joining the company.

As if this change of players wasn’t enough, the real shocker was yet to come. It was also announced that Drew Major, known to some as the father of NetWare, made the decision to leave Novell and join Volera. Volera is a subsidiary of Novell that will take over the caching technology Internet Caching Service (ICS) and the Internet Content service that Novell recently started. In his yearly appearance at the Friday keynote session, Major indicated that he felt it was time for a change and that he had taken NetWare as far as he could.

More sessions to choose from
This year, another record was set at BrainShare with 244 sessions to choose from. Most of the sessions were given at least twice. The hands-on sessions provided by NetWare Users International were offered throughout the day and seemed to be a popular offering.

Some of the sessions you could choose from this year included:
  • Using Novell XML Integration Services and Portals to Extend the Corporate Network to the Internet
  • Identity Management with NDS and DirXML
  • NDS eDirectory Management Overview and Futures
  • Comparing Microsoft Windows 2000 to Novell NetWare
  • Novell NetWare 6 Direction and Roadmap
  • Novell ZENworks for Desktops 3: Introduction to Application Management
  • Integrating Novell NetWare, NDS, and Windows 2000
  • Optimizing and Troubleshooting NDS Account Management in a Windows NT Environment
  • Designing an NDS eDirectory Tree
  • Understanding DirXML Technology
  • Migrating from Windows NT to Novell NetWare 6
  • Novell ZENworks for Desktops 3: Advanced Application Management
  • Creating a Customer Relationship Management System Using NDS eDirectory, GroupWise, and ContactWise

My favorite speakers this year
A welcome return to the Novell fold occurred this year in the form of Scott Lemon. Officially titled corporate evangelist, Lemon is much more than that. He is credited with bringing the wireless network to the BrainShare conference several years ago, before there was an 802.11b standard for wireless LANs.
The wireless LAN inside of the Salt Palace has gone beyond being a nice thing to have to becoming almost a necessity. I experienced this firsthand this year as it provided me the ability to remain in close contact with my company’s network when a key member of my department was out of work longer than planned after surgery. The wireless network allowed me to remotely access my company’s network without hunting down one of the main plug-in connections on the BrainShare network or waiting in line for one of several hundred PCs spread out over the Salt Palace conference center. In doing so, I was able to get some work done for my company and still enjoy the conference.
Lemon blazed new territory this year by showing examples of wearable computers that weren’t just borrowed from a lab at MIT or one of the other higher-level research institutes. Instead, he demonstrated units from commercial sources for what turned out to be very reasonable prices. If being able to touch one of these devices wasn’t enough for you, you could actually try one of them out and then have Lemon show you how to manage the device with technology that Novell has available today: ZENworks for Desktops. While wearable computer technology may not be ready for the mainstream at this point, it was very clear to see that less than a year down the road, the commercial applications would be there and the early adopter consumer type use would not be too far behind.

It wouldn’t be a complete BrainShare experience without attending at least one session presented by Laura Chappell. For those of you who haven’t heard of her, Chappell is a former product manager for the LANalyzer product line from Novell. She presented a number of sessions this year and was responsible for writing at least one of the hands-on sessions (known as Hot Labs) presented by Ed Schlictenmeyer and the folks at NetWare Users International. Although the subject of her sessions may not change much year to year, you can be certain that the content will be updated and added to as needed.

This year, Chappell added the use of a protocol analyzer to her sessions on Protocol Analysis. Using the protocol analyzer, she examined the traffic flowing over the wireless LAN at BrainShare. If you weren’t worried about the wireless network at your company before attending one of her sessions, you certainly had some food for thought after getting out. Chappell handed out a CD at each of her sessions that contained evaluation copies of all the tools she used in her sessions to help you decide which ones to add to your arsenal of tools.

In the nine years that I have been attending the conference, this year was definitely the best BrainShare that I can remember. It has come a long way from being just a conference for developers. As in years past, there was a lot of activity going on behind the scenes before and during the conference to make it a success. Only time will tell what will be waiting for us at BrainShare 2002.

If you manage a Novell network, you’ll find lots of useful information at the BrainShare conferences. I highly recommend that you make at least one pilgrimage to Salt Lake City for BrainShare or attend one of the BrainShare conferences held around the world.
The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

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