Veritas: A blurred vision?

Will the real Veritas please stand up?

A few months after the world miraculously survived the so-called millennium bug, Goldman Sachs analyst Anne Meisner made public her choice for the next big thing in technology.

Meisner predicted that Veritas' software would be the "killer app" for storage area networks.

But Gary Bloom, the new chief who had recently joined Veritas, had his eye on bigger things. Bloom, who cut his entrepreneurial teeth at Oracle, went on a mission to expand Veritas beyond its core business of storage software.

The Veritas of today has evolved beyond storage; the path to diversification coming to fruition following three key acquisitions -- Precise Software, an application performance management maker, application virtualisation player Ejasent, and server utilisation and automation company Jareva Technologies.

But some critics warn that Veritas might be growing too fast for its own good. Others say the company is going through an identity crisis, all in the name of diversification.

As recent as two months ago, Veritas scooped up e-mail archiving software provider KVault Software (KVS) for approximately US$225 million in cash.

Many analysts believe KVS was a good choice, but there are cynics too, as Meta Group vice president John Brand put it: "The acquisition was a mere 'reaction to market demands for e-mail management ... which in itself is a pretty sad sign of the market generally.'"

Research director at Meta Group, Dr Kevin McIsaac, went a step further, questioning how KVS will maintain its partnerships.

"EMC is a KVS partner so you can imagine that will be tricky," McIsaac said. KVS is a member of the EMC Developers Program, EMC Centera Partner Program and EMC NAS Partner Program.

Regardless, Veritas feels it's on the right track. "The acquisition of KVS immediately puts Veritas in the lead in the e-mail archiving market," said Simon Elisha, Veritas strategic technical architect.

The heat is on
McIsaac, and other observers, will be watching from the sidelines as storage makers go head-to-head but one thing is for sure: competition is hotting up faster than a summer's day in Sydney.

And if competition from EMC wasn't enough, now, software monolith Microsoft has joined the fray.

In September, Microsoft unmasked Data Protection Server (DPS), the company's foray into the US$1.5 billion backup and recovery market.

Designed as a standalone server under the Windows Server System umbrella, the disk-based solution will combine replication and point-in-time snapshot technology. Microsoft is currently inviting beta testers to register for the DPS evaluation program.

"We spend a significant amount of time with our customers to get a feeling for what their biggest pain points are. So we're responding to our customers' concerns about their current backup and recovery experiences," Yuval Neeman, Microsoft Storage and Platform Solutions Group corporate vice president, said in a statement.

Although Data Protection Server is slated for availability in the second half of next year, Microsoft has signed up 22 partners including EMC, CommVault Systems, Quantum, Sun Microsystems and Hitachi Data Systems for its storage product.

Some analysts predict that after conquering the small- to mid-market storage sector, Microsoft will start to move up the food chain and attack enterprise storage makers such as Veritas.

Meta's McIsaac doesn't think DFS poses a short-term threat to Veritas but the company might feel the pinch down the road. "Heavy, Microsoft-oriented shops might hold back on spending [with Veritas] to see how the beta program goes.

"DFS can also be used to negotiate [for a better deal] against Veritas," McIsaac said.

Veritas disagrees with McIsaac's assessment.

"Data Protection Server does not compete with the Veritas offering on Windows," said Veritas' Elisha.

"Given that the product is new and will not even be available well into next year, there are no concerns about the product," Elisha added.

Does this mean that if and when Microsoft creeps into Veritas' space, the storage software firm will not bite back?

Apparently, there's no reason to fight Microsoft. "Microsoft is a strong Veritas partner with a significant track record of co-operation," Elisa said.

He maintained that Data Protection Server is very narrow in focus and market area. "It's a niche point product," he said.

Elisha explained that in terms of features, the Microsoft offering has its limitations. "It only forms a small part in any data protection solution. It will log and replicate file-based changes from Windows to a Data Protection Server ... it will create snapshots as mountable file systems for rapid recovery.

"Veritas Backup Exec and NetBackup have much more to offer beyond basic data protection capabilities, including essential tape archiving, support for other data types and centralised management of heterogeneous systems," he said.

The folks at Redmond are obviously looking to grab a huge slice of the backup and recovery market. And Microsoft, like any other commercial concern, has been known to burn bridges to further its agenda.

Talking the talk
The companies it has acquired have been central to the company's vision of stepping outside its comfort zone and bumping up its software stack. To Veritas, the message is clear: all roads lead to utility computing.

In fact, at its inaugural user conference in Sydney recently, Steven Leonard, senior vice president and general manager of Veritas Asia-Pacific told participants that "our strategy is to be the leading provider of heterogenous software to enable utility computing."

But what does that actually mean? Vendor spiel or a succinct strategy delivery? Executives at Veritas may understand where the company is headed but can they articulate the mission to customers?

"Veritas keeps saying that they're more than a storage company but I don't see that," said McIsaac.

McIsaac blames it on a communication breakdown. "Veritas has made some good acquisitions but it still has trouble communicating [their benefits]," he said.

Veritas' Elisha disagrees.

"We have software building blocks that enable availability, performance and automation across heterogenous storage, servers and applications. Customers are comfortable with our strong track record as a leading heterogenous software provider, and want to deal with Veritas in new and developing areas.

"We have a very clear message and mission to enable utility computing for our customers," Elisha said.