Ex-Ghosts relax until next development surge

It's a laid-back atmosphere at Symantec's Auckland office at the moment, but that wasn't the case two months ago. Then, the software company's 30 local staff were in 'crunch mode'.

It’s a laid-back atmosphere at Symantec’s Auckland office at the moment, but that wasn’t the case two months ago. Then, the software company’s 30 local staff were in “crunch mode”, toiling day and night, seven days a week to get the latest release of Norton Ghost, version 7.0, out the door.

Happily, the deadline was met, the product shipped at the start of May, and staff are now taking a well-earned break.

That’s what it’s like when you develop a product for an international software company whose turnover for 2001 was nearly a billion US dollars. Ghost, which was created in New Zealand, enables IT administrators to remotely clone, deploy, configure, back up and restore applications across networked and mobile PCs. Along with the product PC Anywhere, Ghost is part of Symantec’s enterprise administration business unit, which provides 25% of the company’s revenue. Ghost's revenue grew 40% last year.

All Ghost's R&D is done in Auckland. The product was invented by Binary Research, which was bought by Symantec for $US27.5 million in 1998. Auckland is Symantec’s only development facility outside the US. Binary Research founder Murray Haszard left the company but the other original developer, Andrew Haslam, is now principal software engineer, and Binary development manager Olivier Duhamel stayed to become technical director.

Since the acquisition the local operation has doubled its programming staff each year. Today there are about 30 employees: 12 programmers and the rest doing quality assurance, documentation, administration and sales. There are also people working on quality assurance and lab testing in California.

But although the Ghost team is having a quiet period it won’t be long before the work again starts ramping up.

“Usually we’re looking at least two to three releases out,” says Duhamel. “There are always so many ideas happening in the product’s future space.” Apart from internal ideas and keeping an eye on the competition, more features that customers are asking for may be factored in to future development. Partly to that end Ghost product manager Thom Bailey, who came to New Zealand from Symantec’s US operation, is about to embark on a five-week world tour to meet customers.

Surprisingly, there isn’t as much travel as one might expect. There was a lot toing and froing between New Zealand and the US when the company was first acquired, says Duhamel, but now that need has mostly vanished.

Duhamel says the worst thing about going from being a small New Zealand team to part of a large US corporate is the decision making process slows down as more people have their say. “But on the other hand, once the decision is made there are all the resources and infrastructure there to make it happen.”

Haslam is similarly enthusiastic about Symantec’s resources but says the best part of working for a major software company is the type of work Ghost gets to do in terms of getting into new and even bleeding-edge technology. “We get to work under the covers with Microsoft technology or OEM hardware.”

He says he’d like to see other Symantec technology developed in New Zealand, something that is a distinct possibility. Meanwhile, the company is always looking for staff.

Symantec programmers use Microsoft Visual Studio, assorted operating system device drivers, various Windows device driver kits, MFC, COM with ATL, Microsoft and other system debuggers, third party libraries for specific hardware and device access, plus an assortment of code editors.

“We’re looking for people with all kinds of knowledge," says Haslam, "but most of all, people who are passionate about what they do.”

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