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Novell Makes Public-Sector Pact

Novell becomes only the third tech vendor to sign aboard the U.S. Government Services Agency's (GSA) SmartBuy Program, officials announced Thursday.

The SmartBuy Program is the government's effort to concentrate all software and hardware purchases, which amounts to $60 billion annually, under one roof and get vendors to provide their wares at bulk-rate prices.

The program has been slow going since its inception back in June 2003. SmartBuy Program Manager Tom Kireilis attributes this to vendor reluctance to provide bulk pricing on hardware and software purchases. However, it is picking up steam.

"We want to make this a win-win for the industry as well as government, and the only way to do that is to decrease the cost of doing business with the government," he said. "We're trying to leverage that, if you will, and put into place large agreements that are wide-ranging in scope. That makes it easier to sell to the government and thereby reduces their costs."

What Novell gets to leverage is the fact that it's only the third vendor to get the GSA's seal of approval. The other two companies don't compete in the same software arena; ESRI provides geographic information systems (GIS) and mapping software, while Manugistics is a supply chain management (SCM) vendor.

Novell is also the first Linux vendor -- with its SuSE Linux offering -- in the program, giving them an enviable advantage with any agency looking for a cheaper alternative to the Windows operating system, which has been one of the dominant office application and server software providers in the space.

It also gives SuSE Linux a fresh start in an area that hasn't already been blanketed by Red Hat , a commercial Linux vendor that owns more than 60 percent of the market share in the Linux server sector. Other distributors are gaining ground, however, and naturally Novell wants SuSE on top.

As such, the company created three specialized software bundles of its Linux product to compete against Microsoft and Red Hat: a desktop package, a server "starter pack" for departmental networks and an enterprise-grade Linux offering for large environments.

Also in the offering, on the software side, is a Web services bundle to transition the government's many legacy systems. Novell officials said their secure identity management software will soon test through GSA's eAuthentication Interoperability Lab.

"The federal government has always been a strong customer of Novell, and we hope our participation in SmartBuy will strengthen the relationship even more," Alan Kraft, Novell vice president for federal government solutions, said in a statement. "More importantly, with the new SmartBuy software bundles we're offering, federal agencies can address tough IT challenges around infrastructure, open source, security and data integration with integrated, yet flexible solutions at an attractive price point."