Hewlett-Packard, who recently announced that it would all but retreat from the identity management sector as an independent vendor, has just announced a partnership with Novell. That will settle the many speculations in the industry. As HP had made a significant investment into identity management products, someone would surely be picking up the pieces. And the winner is: Novell!

From the announcement that was made to the analyst community and the subsequent press release, it is pretty clear that HP is looking for an elegant way to divest itself from its product line. Of course, HP cannot and will not leave existing customers hanging, so the previous announcement from HP was to "not actively pursue new customers" for its identity management software anymore. Another way of putting it - but the message is clear: those products are no longer actively pursued, the key employees have long moved on, such as Greg Whitehead who came to HP from Trustgenix, after it was acquired by HP.

If there is any doubt about the future of HP's product line: Novell is offering a license credit for current HP Identity Center customers and the press release makes frequent use the word "migration".

HP and Novell will now jointly develop tools to help their respective teams migrate customers away from Identity Center and towards the Novell product offering.

The win for Novell is obvious: a strong influx of new accounts, plus a strong partnership with a key systems player that has just a few days ago announced its intentions to strike it big with services as well - acquiring EDS. On the other side, what is the win for HP, apart from a honourable exit from its products? Surely, after the acquisition of EDS a likely theory would be that there may be some good deals in the pipeline for HP's new upscaled services division, working closer with Novell. But even though this may be the case, it is very unlikely that the EDS deal and the Novell partnership have had any effect on each other, and although Identity Management is a hot and growing space, it is just a fraction of what EDS did for its customers.

What will be intereting to see however is if and how Novell will take over some of HP's IdM estate, and how this would be integrated within Novell's solutions. For example, the Trustgenix federation software, just to note one example, were superior technology at the time of acquisition and still present a formidable stack for the implementation of federation solutions.

A very interesting detail is however not mentioned in the press release: this special partnership is not exclusive at all. This should perhaps be obvious, because HP partners with other companies who also have a significant identity management offering. Curiously also, the press release was not even published in Germany. Although that may seem as an insignificant detail, it has subtle implications: SAP is very strong in the German Identity Management field through its Netweaver offering, and HP makes a lot of money through its partnership with SAP, and will want to keep its options open.

It will be interesting to see the reaction of HP's Identity Center customers after this announcement. Some have already moved away from Identity Center, or are in the process of doing so. Novell has a well-rounded offering, but it might not always be the right match for existing HP Identity Center customers. Then again, it is likely that some technology gets transfered or licensed to Novell. For most existing Identity Center customers however this is good news, as it lays out a clear path for transitioning over to a solid product line that is established and actively maintained.