Veritas wants to be the Switzerland of storage

Like H.J. Heinz Co. and its fabled 57 varieties, Veritas Software Corp. is betting that customers will always prefer choice.

With the likes of Sun Microsystems Inc. and Microsoft Corp. gunning for a piece of its business, Veritas announced a slew of partnerships Monday with both hardware and software makers at its Veritas Vision user conference in Dallas. Veritas’ key strength among makers of storage software lies in its support for multiple hardware and operating system platforms, while rivals like Sun tend to focus in on their own platforms, according to Veritas officials.

“We are sort of like Switzerland,” said Mark Bregman, executive vice president of product operations at Veritas. “While there is a lot of rhetoric floating around from some other guys, there are large barriers of entry for them. Users want a system that allows them to mix and match hardware suppliers; they want software that is independent of, and agnostic about, the hardware.”

Vendors like Sun, IBM Corp., EMC Corp. and Microsoft have indicated plans to bundle additional storage management features into their core software systems over the next few years. This puts additional pressure on Veritas to stay ahead of the pack by offering a richer product worth its sometimes higher price, according to analysts. The company must also manage a delicate balance with its partners, some of whom are also competitors, as it continues to open its software to as many platforms as possible.

A further step in this direction will come this week when Veritas is set to announce that its suite of storage management software will now run on IBM’s AIX operating system, joining Sun’s Solaris, Hewlett-Packard Co.’s HP-UX and Microsoft’s Windows. The full suite of software should also be ready for Linux this year, Bregman said.

Along with this announcement, Veritas said its Database Edition/HA, Cluster Server, Global Cluster Manager and Volume Replicator software products are now certified to work on PeopleSoft Inc.’s PeopleSoft 8 applications. Veritas also launched new partner programs designed to help ensure that its software works with hardware from other storage vendors as well as networking companies such as Cisco Systems Inc.

Partnerships like these should help Veritas retain its position as a vendor-neutral software supplier and build out its portfolio into new areas, Bregman said.

“Our customers need to have a supplier whose software will support storage arrays and things like switches from many vendors,” he said. “As the technology changes from direct attached storage to storage area networks and iSCSI (Internet Small Computer System Interface), they will need the flexibility we can provide.”

This strategy could help Veritas maintain its position as a leading storage software company even as it faces heavy competition, said one analyst.

“There’s definitely a move by guys like Sun and Microsoft to add storage management functions into things that look like operating systems,” said John Webster, senior analyst and founder of the Data Mobility Group in Londonderry, New Hampshire. “Still, there is only so far an OS vendor wants to go with trying to take storage business away from its partners with tweaks to the operating system. I think there is always room to add value in the software market, no matter what the OS guys do.”

Sun executives have said the new Solaris 9 operating system, which is due out by mid-year, will add new file system and management technologies that will make the storage capabilities in Solaris stack up well against Veritas. Microsoft also has indicated plans to add new file system and management tools in future releases of Windows. The developments could potentially allow both Microsoft and Sun to undercut Veritas on pricing for some applications, Webster said.

While Sun has argued that some of the advanced features offered by Veritas are “obscure,” Veritas’ Bregman said it is that type of thinking that will help its business thrive.

“The products we sell are valuable to people that are tying to do complex things,” he said.

Bregman compared Veritas’ products to a Porsche and Sun’s to a Yugo, arguing that Sun can take care of many customers but that people who want the best performance will go for the Porsche.