Hurry up Symantec

At the Symantec 2013 WWIAC (World-wide Industry Analyst Conference for those who are guessing) there was a feeling of freshness in the air - a feeling of "we can do this right this time".

I believe as Symantec 4.0 takes shape, we will finally begin to see objectives that Symantec intended to achieve when it acquired Veritas. That does not mean it is all rosy from here on out. Important questions still linger: What is the big picture? Why Symantec? Why now? - and finally "Is it too little too late?"

Symantec's WWIAC events are always modest in comparison with similar events hosted by their peers. But what I like about Symantec's events is that they are always crisp, to the point and have not a sliver of BS in them. They lay the current state on the table - and then chart out where they intend to go. It is what I have come to experience from companies that are engineering organizations at their core - everything else comes secondary.

Symantec and NetApp are perhaps one of the few remaining suppliers that have maintained this engineering first culture (Sun may have been added to this list had it stayed around). Lately though this mode of operation seems to have gone out of fashion. Suppliers are increasingly shifting their model to be more glitterati driven - and as a result their Analyst events are increasingly becoming less and less about ground reality - and more and more about how good of a showmanship their execs can put on.

That said, this blog post is about Symantec. A company that I have come to respect over the years for the top-class products they have been putting out. I started using their Veritas products - Volume Manager, File system and Cluster server in the late ninetees. As a systems administrator I respected the value these products provided to an OS stack - not one platform vendor commercial or otherwise offered these capabilities natively in their operating platforms. And if you had a mixed UNIX environments (HP-UX, Solaris, SunOS, AIX etc.) you'd better have good luck writing scripts! I was one of the beta testers of their clustered file system.

Nearly 15 years ago Veritas engineers had designed low latency transport (LLT) and a global atomic broadcast (GAB) to handle distributed locking. It's group-lock manager (GLM) was the core component of this clustered file system. Talk about an engineering vision!

When the execs went on stage at WWIAC2013 to discuss their future, this is the engineering might and vision that gave them and their claims the credibility - if Veritas pulled it off back then, Symantec can pull it off now. The morning sessions were organized into the following four "verticals" that Symantec has created as a part of their 4.0 vision

  • Mobile
  • User productivity and protection
  • Information security
  • Information management

The change with the biggest impact I believe is that Symantec has merged the older SAMG and IMG group into an IM group. This will foster more collaboration between teams - and more importantly allow cross-platform or component sharing. More importantly it will give the buyer a seamless and integrated experience when it comes to the products like Storage foundation, NetBackup and newer products like Data Insight.

Symantec signalled that it is going to push an appliance strategy aggressively. Buoyed by the success of its NetBackup purpose-built backup appliance or PBBA (A category that IDC tracks), Symantec is examining expanding their appliance offerings further. It has learned the lessons of what not to do with its erstwhile Huawei partnership for sure.

Symantec is also bullish about their new offerings: information fabric, object store, business continuity and cloud information management. In each case, Symantec has carefully mapped its products to these offerings - integrating existing products where possible and seeking to develop new products where necessary. It was non-commital to acquisitions but I suspect it may have to shop around for technologies that accelerate the development of these new offerings.

CJ Desai - who heads up the IM group now has his work cut out for him. Amongst his peers I believe CJ perhaps has the most riding on his plate because of what IM means for Symantec's survival.

Yet at the highest level I think Symantec has to do more to convince existing and new customers of this lingering question: Why Symantec? In a fiercely competitive market full of shark-infested waters, Symantec cannot be modest anymore. It has to go aggressive in convincing its constituents that it is indeed the only bet when it comes to federating the flethora of hardware, software and cloud solutions and in the process simplify the environment.

It can start by explaining the big picture. Symantec's world of enterprises in the Big Picture. A blueprint for 4.0 - from a buyer perspective. And then how it intends to get there.....and how soon.

Symantec should also be careful not to get into the "Not invented here" syndrome. Many engineering companies have fallen prey to this (look at Sun). Symantec should also foster an ecosystem - make its IP available to others as embedded technology. Violin Memory and HP are examples. Force technology partnerships with hardware visionaries like Intel. For example:

  • If Symantec is serious about an appliance strategy, why not explore acquiring a storage startup - especially one that is pursuing a hardware/appliance strategy itself.
  • Symantec could acquire startup (or well established) vendors that own hypervisor IP. Owning its own hypervisor stack will further Symantec's platform and cloud agnostic strategy.
  • Symantec could also go deeper into the cloud world. Acquire cloud-switching technologies - and partner with cloud providers to enable its own cloud switching solutions.

Time is running out Symantec. And this is your chance to do it.

Posted by Ashish Nadkarni

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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