On 22-Nov-2010, Attachmate Corporation announced it was acquiring the assets of Novell, Inc. Once on top of the IT world, Novell's glory had clearly faded. Along the way, however, it acquired several attractive assets of its own (e.g., PlateSpin, Managed Objects). Towards the end of its independence, the future certainly looked bleak for Novell and especially its management software businesses.

The immediate reaction to the Attachmate acquisition was skepticism among most industry watchers, including yours truly. My reaction was similar when Attachmate acquired NetIQ. After all, what rationale is there to a legacy mainframe software company buying either NetIQ or Novell? The perception was that all of these product families would be milked for their maintenance revenue and innovation, and other development would be killed. It now appears these fears were largely unfounded, though I stand by my original skepticism. Veterans like me have seen such things unravel before.

The various Novell assets have been redistributed across four companies in the Attachmate Group, with the management assets being assimilated under the NetIQ brand. While a full merger of the NetIQ and Novell assets will take at least a year, the (now) NetIQ team has moved with impressive speed to launch its initial consolidated families.

Overall, Forrester likes what it sees in the new NetIQ. For one, the tight integration of identity management (one of Novell's key strengths) is very promising . Accurately linking hardware, software, services, and business processes to actual people is one of the big weaknesses across the entire management software field. Other management vendors have tried to infuse strong identity management, but it remains a missed opportunity. NetIQ can finally change that. Execution to this point appears to be moving in a positive direction.

The political issues are complicated, but even more potential lies in a further merging with other related assets within the broader Attachmate corporate structure. Attachmate is one of many companies owned by a private equity firm called Thoma Bravo. Those most relevant to an enhanced management software strategy are Embarcadero Technologies, LANDesk Software, and Tripwire. Francisco Partners and Golden Gate Capital are also Attachmate investors, and this is what could make a further merger more complicated. Still, these firms want to make money, and a consolidation of assets will make them all more money.

A more complete marriage of these companies would result in a formidable vendor. Database technologies from Embarcadero can expand NetIQ's coverage even deeper into that critical domain. LANDesk brings a slew of great automation and discovery technologies, some that overlap NetIQ, but a smart melding of the product families can be very powerful. Add the compliance analytics of Tripwire, and you would have a very capable suite of technologies that can rival the megavendors on almost any front. Alone, they are each good. Together they can be great!

No longer tethered to the whims and accelerating demands of Wall Street, the new company can more freely innovate. Being beholden to a private equity firm isn't much different, but it is different enough. If Thoma Bravo's leadership wants to maximize their return on these management software assets, continued merging of the assets will boost their revenue considerably and the profits will benefit from a reduction in overhead that is now spread across all of them.