Veritas customers wary of merger

Concerns about timely tech-support once companies are merged

Security vendor Symantec has taken a beating on Wall Street since announcing plans last December to buy storage management company Veritas Software for US$13.5 billion. But perhaps an even more skeptical crowd awaits Symantec in the form of Veritas customers.

The major concern about a dozen joint Symantec/Veritas customers expressed when Network World US contacted them centres around how Symantec will support them once the companies unite.

Customers praised Veritas support as clean and simple, while castigating Symantec for slow support not worthy of enterprise network customers.

"The (Veritas) web site is full of data and the search of the user forums is integrated," says Ed Cetron, managing partner for Technologies International in New Jersey, which uses Veritas Volume Manager and Backup Exec, and Symantec's Norton Antivirus Corporate Edition. "Tech support (and beta-test support) has always been from people who apparently care."

Symantec, on the other hand, has always been standoffish, Cetron says. "The tech support has been mediocre, and I've never gotten the feeling that they are anything but a commodity supplier," he says.

David Lipman, a former senior engineer for Lockheed Martin Information Technology in Virginia, expresses similar sentiments.

"Veritas' technical support is far superior - this includes Veritas hosting a private, non-UseNet news server," he says.

"A company, small or large, can't wait days to weeks to get a solution if there is a problem," says Lipman, who has used both Symantec's Norton Ghost software and Veritas' Backup Exec. "Veritas is much more in-tune to assisting its user base."

Symantec denies having systematic problems in its support organisation and notes that about one-third of its 6,000 employees are dedicated to technical support.

"The (amount of time these users say it takes to respond) is totally inaccurate," says Don Oldenburg, senior director of global support for Symantec. "On the consumer side, the average response time to service requests is 18 hours. I have talked to a lot of customers on a daily basis, and that certainly isn't the norm. Ninety-five percent of our customers are 'satisfied' or 'very satisfied' with our support."

Symantec recommends that midsize to large enterprise network customers sign monthly Premium Platinum or Global Premium Platinum contracts, where the response time can be immediate.

Symantec says its Premium Platinum or Global Premium Platinum support contracts for products such as its Enterprise Firewall 8.0 for Windows or its Antivirus Corporate Edition include 24/7 support, an unlimited number of service requests and a technical account manager. IT complements these contracts with web-based knowledgebases, e-mail notification services and software upgrades. Veritas offers support contracts that promise many of the same benefits.

Symantec declined to say how its support programs might change once the Veritas acquisition is sealed, most likely in March. Neither has it outlined how the companies' products will be merged or which products might be ditched.

One customer seemingly unfazed by the joining of Symantec and Veritas noted that they both have established support channels. "I do not foresee much change, if at all, in the way Veritas supports its customers," says Jim Miskovsky, director of IT for law firm Fischer & Phillips in Atlanta.

Paul Erickson, vice president of Ohio-based Tradeshow Multimedia, says he hopes Symantec will take support pricing into consideration as it works through the merger.

"Their attitude toward pay-only support for even simple product activation problems is frustrating," he says. "Try calling their support phones sometime and navigating the support tree and getting anywhere without putting in a credit card number."

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