Can Veritas shift from dove to hawk?

Growing pains

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Analysis To shift from software lackey to data center dominatrix, Veritas will need to make sure the basic tenets of the company can mature at the same pace as product - a feat it may not be capable of pulling off.

At present, Veritas is caught in a rather pleasant software limbo. Its core file system, volume manager and data back-up products bring in more revenue than ever, ensuring Veritas's place as Windows and Solaris users' pleasant friend. This success feeds larger aspirations to move away from being a storage specialist and toward becoming a serious choice for broad server and software management. The limbo comes from Veritas using its main businesses to let it coast for a bit while much more risky plays have time to pay off.

Not all vendors have this luxury; and, unfortunately, this position has made Veritas a bit soft.

During the Veritas Vision conference held last week in Las Vegas, company officials peppered showgoers with big talk. Executives laid out a fanciful utility computing vision that will see Veritas go up against much larger, more experienced rivals such as IBM, HP and Sun Microsystems. But, while Veritas was eager to tout products, it was hesitant even to entertain the thought that having a richer software portfolio will alter Veritas' relationship with many companies once consider close partners.

The partner/competitor relationship is not new for Veritas. It prides itself on its ability to tap into every major vendors' APIs while still competing with them.

In the past, however, Veritas stood as only a minor threat to Sun, EMC et al. Veritas's niche status helped it out, as rivals/partners were happy to offer capable product to their customers. Now Veritas wants to move toward being more things to more people with its clustering products, disaster recovery technology, application provisioning and performance packages and billing tools. In total, Veritas wants to be the preferred software choice for customers looking to build a utility data center.

"It certainly does change the relationship with partners to some extent," Mark Bregman, head of product operations at Veritas, said in an interview with The Register.

Bregman went on to point out the obvious, which is that Veritas hopes to secure more of customers' software purchases than ever before. Instead of plugging in here and there, Veritas would like to be the central buy for hardware/software management. This push has all the trappings of the lock-in approach Veritas has criticized in the past. Once you commit to Veritas in full, there is no turning back.

But while Bregman admits to a changing landscape between Veritas and its partners, he is quick to point out that the company has gaps in its arsenal.

"We are still not a real one-stop-shop," he said. "We don't have the network management stuff. We don't have security. You are going to get that somewhere else."

That's a pretty modest tone for a company that spent a large part of its user conference ripping into companies such as IBM, HP, Sun and EMC. Veritas insists that it's the only company out of this bunch that actually has utility computing product ready to go. "If you have to make a major data center software buy, Veritas should be your choice," is the clear message.

This is a risky strategy for a company that is both smaller and less used to confrontation than the firms it hopes to compete against.

Veritas, like the other players, will still need at least two years to tune its product portfolio for true utility computing. Its clustering team proved this last week, laying out a 24-month roadmap for taking customers where they want to be.

But can Veritas sustain its bluster against competitors over the next two years without facing serious backlash? For all its talents in writing code that can go up against anyone's software, Veritas still has a mid-tier vendor approach when it comes to marketing and strategy. CEO Gary Bloom's Veritas Vision keynote is one example of this weak side.

And, while Bregman, a top Veritas executive, conceded that the company's competitive position is changing, he was loathe to discuss the subject at length. Most of our questions were met with a simple "I don't think so" or "No." Veritas staffers, as a whole, gave off the impression that the company has not completely thought out the bumpy road ahead.

Veritas will no doubt continue to work with all types of vendors and maintain its heritage of having open code. Customers will be able to plug software from other vendors into Vertias' utility data center package.

But what constitutes an ideal world for Veritas is changing. Veritas is no longer happy playing on the fringe. It wants customers to be able to pick Veritas software for just about any function in the data center.

Based on past product, Veritas should well be able to deliver the applications needed to up its standing in the software kingdom. It, however, has a lot of maturing to do elsewhere to back the product up and make its big bets pay off. ®

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