Symantec launched a new online software licensing program on Nov. 6, about the same time it unveiled Veritas Backup Exec 11d. Users are complaining that they have to wait for Backup Exec upgrade notices because of a backlog of people trying to register on the new licensing site. Symantec’s CIO, David Thompson, and public relations manager, Cris Paden, told Computerworld that the new licensing system is necessary to help thwart a “humongous” piracy ring that has been costing Symantec more than US$10 million every year. Excerpts from the interview follow:
Read about why users are angry about slow tech support service and the new licensing portal here.
Users say there’s a logjam in getting their backup software upgrades due to the launch of the combined Symantec/Veritas licensing portal. What’s going on?
Thompson: With regard to the new licensing processes that we’ve put in place, both companies did licensing just slightly different in certain products. The current feedback we’re getting from clients is there have been some challenges around a very small subset of our customer base that are previous Veritas clients who use the Backup Exec product. As part of our new release and process, we’re now asking all of our clients to register as a client and also to obtain their license keys through that registration process.
One other reason we consolidated our licensing process was to mitigate and reduce our exposure to software piracy. We’ve had some challenges with that in certain regions. The one consolidated licensing model is one way to ensure the client that purchased the product is the client who’s using the product.
Paden: I’ve handled the communications for our antipiracy teams for the last four or five years. Symantec had gone through this licensing process for Symantec products back in the summer of ’03 to be able to address the piracy issue that blew up then. What we’re basically doing is installing the same process for the Veritas products regarding the licensing keys.
What are you doing to attack those piracy rings?
Paden: It’s a syndicate that’s here in North America. I’ll try to add historical context by saying that if we don’t [add Veritas users], this piracy will continue to happen. By the summer of 2003, we were loosing half a billion dollars a year due to counterfeit software. Once we introduced the licensing process, we were able to knock that down into maybe the single digits in terms of millions [of dollars], maybe double digits, but going from half a billion down to $10 million or less shows the effectiveness of it.
The problems we’re dealing with right now as far as transitioning customers through the new licensing process is minimal in terms of what our support people would endure if they were having to deal with customers using fake or counterfeit versions of Backup Exec. It’s a growing problem that we’re trying to head off at the pass. In a couple of weeks, we should be able to make some type of announcement, and when we do, you’ll see the dollar numbers we’re talking about. It’s in the eight figures.
How long have you been dealing with this piracy ring?
Paden: Our team had been investigating this piracy ring for the last two and a half years. That’s pre-Veritas. But as the investigation continued and it grew — this is a rather large syndicate — then of course when we acquired Veritas, we scooped up that issue, too.
Users have reported that they are experiencing long waits when it comes to getting technical support. Have you had to put more of your manpower into the merger with Veritas than in servicing customers?
Thompson: There are three specific things happening at once. One, it’s year-end and a lot of clients are doing a lot of work, and we typically see a high call volume near year-end and around the holidays. The [second] thing is that as we were deploying these new capabilities to the new licensing portal, we realized there was going to be some noise within our customer base as we implemented these new processes. So we were expecting a higher call volume related to customers learning the new licensing process. The third thing, and this is the thing you’re honing in on, is that the Backup Exec 11d upgrade hit right around the same time. So in preparation for that, we’ve been [meting] out those upgrade notices. If we’d sent out all those upgrade notices all at once, we would have had a tremendous amount of change occurring in our customer base. So we’ve been sending those out and will have those completed by the end of February.
Paden: So the customer base is big enough that even if we’re trying to roll it out on a batched basis, it still has created an initial glut.
Does that have to do with the process of rolling out the license upgrade notices themselves or the new portal itself?
Thompson: In the past, the customer who received these [upgrade notices] were immediately able to use the product, but now they’re being asked to register and obtain the keys. So customers are interacting with a new process. It’s not a performance issue with the new system, and it’s not a performance issue that I can see at this point in time with our support group; it’s just a volume of change occurring in the customer base all at once. It’s unfortunate that customers are impacted here, but I think the benefits are pretty good for the client. In the end, hopefully we’ll reduce piracy in this area.
Do you think you made a mistake integrating the two licensing models at the same time you were rolling out a major upgrade of Backup Exec?
Thompson: We wanted the client to see the benefits of seeing a combined licensing portal, the new buying programs and the ability to interact with Symantec and Veritas as one company. We’ve been seeing the higher call volumes. But clients like the consolidated view of all their licensing and to see all there financial data in one place.
We’re dealing with hundreds of thousands of users here that need to get licensing keys and register. We’ve been batching them in fairly small batches of 20,000 or less, and we expect 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.