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EMC exec flames Reg with ambiguity

Retrospek. It's war

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EMC and The Register have gone to war, and the battle rages over backup software of all things.

Last week, we questioned whether EMC will in fact release version 8.0 of its once popular Retrospect backup software. The Insignia SMB (small and medium business) division behind the Retrospect product has suffered massive layoffs, leaving a much shrunken engineering and sales crew to push the software. Beyond that, multiple EMC insiders told us flat out that the Insignia management revealed in December that Retrospect 8.0 would not arrive.

When pushed on the 8.0 release, an EMC spokesman refused a commitment to the product. Instead, he would only say that enhancements to Retrospect 7.5 would come this quarter. Retrospect customers have long been looking for these "enhancements" which will include support for Microsoft's new Vista operating system and Apple's new "Leopard" OS.

Longer term, however, the users want to know if the more massive 8.0 release is in store. That software - halfway done in December, according to our sources - would include a brand new user interface and some flashy new tools. Again, EMC refused to commit to this product.

Now we find former Dantz (the original maker of Retrospect) co-founder and current EMC executive Larry Zulch going at our report on a mailing list.

Where EMC's Insignia unit once employed up to 120 workers, it now has around 50 people. EMC laid off about 40 workers and sent others - mostly engineers - to VMware.

Here's how Zulch characterizes the massive layoffs and the closure of Dantz's former office.

"For the last couple of years, we've used the Dantz/Retrospect team's expertise to broaden EMC's presence in small and medium business," he writes. "We've helped develop and sell storage array hardware and storage resource management, replication, and collaboration software. They are good products and will now be supported by the original teams that owned them. I look at that as incubation work that is now complete."

It's the kind of "incubation" where less than half a chick comes out, but an incubation nonetheless.

Zulch continues.

"Pulled out of that much larger team is a core group that has recently been assembled to focus exclusively on Retrospect. In that team are some of the very best people we had at Dantz, such as Laurie Gill, an engineer and 18-year veteran who knows every nook and cranny of Retrospect and kept the Macintosh version going when we neglected it; Greg Wang, in QA and hardware support since 1999; Matt Johnson, who has been driving sales through more changes than you can imagine; Robin Mayoff, who joined Dantz in 1994, running tech support and keeping a presence online; Julie Heck, in charge of marketing, and a host of others, all under John Palmer, who was head of operations for EMC Insignia and someone that I came to trust, and more, to admire."

You'll notice that Zulch points to one engineer, two support staffers and one sales person who are now behind Retrospect. We imagine Symantec can match that robust core crew.

"These people, this team, is highly motivated and completely dedicated to your and Retrospect's success," Zulch adds. "They have something to prove, and I hope you'll give them a chance to do so."

In the note, Zulch fails to commit to future versions of Retrospect. Instead, he tells customers that all is well - have no fear.

A number of customers bought this pitch.

"Thanks for your assurance on this matter," writes one user on the message board. "We truly hope that Retrospect will continue to flourish and be dependable for us for years to come."

Others, however, weren't satisfied.

Dave Pooser, for example, wonders exactly how many people are in this "core group" Zulch mentions.

"I think 'new versions are coming' flat isn't enough information," he writes. "In my opinion, it's past time for a reasonably detailed roadmap.

"I really want to see the next version of Retrospect come out as a great product that raises the bar for backup software. But years of anticipation later, it's difficult to sustain any optimism without some solid information from EMC."

EMC contends that discussing a future version of Retrospect would go against its policy of not commenting on unannounced products. But no one is asking for exact product details. Customers simply want to know if Version 8.0 will in fact appear. Such information seems relevant when you're re-upping a support contract or deciding which backup software you'll use with Vista and Leopard.

It's disconcerting to say the least that neither EMC nor Zulch will answer the 8.0 question directly. Surely, EMC is not booking sales now on empty promises of a grand future.

Or is VMWare taking charge of EMC's backup software?

We welcome your response now, Mr. Zulch, just as much as we did last week. ®

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