Symantec blames poor services on piracy, but…

Symantec Corp. said Thursday that a piracy ring is costing it tens of millions of dollars in revenue and is partially behind a slowdown in the release of new software licenses for some Veritas backup products.

Symantec’s CIO David Thompson told Computerworld that his company has been investigating large North American and Canadian piracy rings for more than two years and that with the acquisition of Veritas, additional piracy of Backup Exec software by the same groups was discovered.

Cris Paden, Symantec’s manager of corporate public relations, said more information would be released in the next few weeks and called the piracy ring “humongous,” saying it represents sales of software that amounts to “eight figures.”

“The problems … as far as transitioning customers through the new licensing process is minimal [compared to] what our support people would endure if they were having to deal with customers using … counterfeit versions of Backup Exec,” Paden said. “It’s a growing problem that we’re trying to head off at the pass.”

Although the company is pointing to piracy as a major issue, customers are less concerned with the cause of licensing backups and slow support — and more upset about the results.

Some users are complaining that Symantec technical support has deteriorated since its merger with Veritas Corp. began last year and that their software licensing program for Veritas Backup Exec software is in a logjam. At least one user said he has waited three weeks for an upgrade to Veritas Backup Exec 11d. Another said he has waited up to three hours on the phone for technical support help.

“According to customer support, they have thousands and thousands of [software upgrade] invitations being held because the merger of Veritas licensing with their own has been such a disaster. It seems to be a huge fiasco,” said Scott Ladewig, manager of networking and operations for the John M. Olin School of Business at Washington University.

Ladewig said he’s waiting to upgrade his Veritas Backup Exec software from version 10.1 to version 11d, which was launched earlier this month (see “Symantec unveils next-gen backup, imaging, antivirus software“).

“I’ve just seen online that people have been having a difficult time getting support. Yesterday, I was on hold for an hour,” he said.

Thompson told Computerworld that the licensing slowdown is being caused by a new ERP system and online licensing system, the rollout of which was just completed few weeks ago. The new online licensing system is slowly combining Symantec’s existing process for registering customers and assigning them identity keys with recently acquired Veritas customers.

He said the licensing system is necessary in order to ensure that pirated copies of Backup Exec and some other Symantec software products he would not identify are not being used by customers.

“Both companies did licensing just slightly different. Previous customers with Backup Exec didn’t have to register and tell us where the product was being used and identify technical contacts,” he said. To address the issue, Symantec has been meting out the number of new license notifications for Veritas software customers — about 20,000 at a time.

“We’re dealing with hundreds of thousands of users here that need to get licensing keys and register,” Thompson said. “We’ll have all those batches sent out to clients by mid-February. If a client wanted to see one earlier, we could probably facilitate that one client receiving it earlier.”

Ladewig said he was told by Symantec tech support that because the company decided to merge the Symantec and Veritas licensing programs at the same time it was launching a major upgrade to its SMB backup software, Backup Exec, there are thousands of upgrade invitations on hold.

Symantec posted a message on its new software licensing portal telling customers that due to a high volume of inquiries, it will take five to seven business days to respond to requests.

Thompson said Symantec weighed deploying Backup Exec 11d with wanting their customers to experience the benefits of seeing a combined licensing portal, its new software buying programs and the ability to interact with Symantec and Veritas as one company.

“We did add significant staff to our support lines to make sure we could handle the call volumes for year end and also the changes in process and upgrades,” he said. “It does sound like some customers are experiencing some waits that are longer than normal. I can see how some customers would not be happy and we’re addressing that head on.”

But Symantec’s problems don’t appear to be limited to Veritas products.

John Halamka, CIO at Harvard Medical School and CareGroup Healthcare System in Boston, said Symantec forgot to send his office a license renewal reminder for his Brightmail Anti-Spam application. There was “a lapse in coverage of a few days that caused us to scramble.”

Donald Springer, IS manager at A. J. Antunes & Co., in Carol Stream, Ill., said the quality of service support before Veritas’ merger with Symantec was bad, and it hasn’t improved much since the merger. Springer said he is looking to replace his Backup Exec software with another product because the upgrades he implemented since Version 9 have made it very unstable, causing conflicts with drivers and failed backups.

“My record time was three hours on hold waiting to talk to someone with regards to that software,” he said. “We would love it if we could go back to the Veritas company that we used to deal with. We’re actively looking for software solutions to eliminate this chronic irritant.”

Chris Varner, chief technology officer at DDJ Capital Management in Wellesley, Mass., said customer support has been poor lately. Earlier this week, he called tech support three times before getting an answer to a problem with his spam filtering software, which had simply stopped working.

“On three different phone calls with three different tech support reps we got three different answers,” Varner said.

Varner was eventually told the issue was caused by a Microsoft security patch problem that required a labor-intensive fix. “Not only was it an issue that we got the wrong answer the first time, but it was also problematic in that the patch we had to apply took a lot of manual work and manual file copying,” Varner said. “To have a Microsoft patch break their product and for them not to notify us proactively kind of pisses me off too.”

Thompson said it is normal at the end of the year for the number of technical support inquiries to increase and that Symantec has added staff to address that.

But Ladewig said one problem created by Symantec’s merger with Veritas is that instead of just being able to see his Veritas licenses when he logs into Symantec’s license support portal, he now sees all the licenses of every department at his university.

“Symantec apparently has bundled [all the university’s licenses] into one [place], so that when I log in I see software from other units at the University. I see some of my stuff and other stuff still isn’t there,” he said. “If the merger is helping me as a customer, I haven’t seen it.”

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