We’re gonna keep on shopping, says Symantec’s Salem

Symantec Corp., which over the past few years, has extended the scope and reach of its operations through acquisitions has no intentions of backpedalling now.

“We will continue to be acquisitive,” chief operating officer (COO) Enrique Salem told journalists at Symantec ManageFusion 2008 in Orlando.

ManageFusion showcases products, trends and technologies from Altiris – the IT management company that Cupertino, Calif.-based Symantec acquired last year.

Attendees are offered training and resources on managing and securing technology through automation – with the goal of reducing the cost and complexity of IT ownership, and helping their companies align business and IT objectives.

During a media briefing at the conference on Tuesday, Salem conceded these are indeed difficult times, but said Symantec couldn’t be too focused on the macro-economic situation, and had to do what’s best for business.

“We will continue to spend around half our operating cash flow on mergers and acquisitions.”

But he said Symantec would be selective in its acquisitions, focusing only on market-leading technologies.

Salem also predicted that private company valuations would drop. “They can’t expect the same premiums. The market’s down around 30 per cent, and if valuations are reasonable, we will continue to buy.”

Only connect

Meanwhile, Symantec’s key announcement at ManageFusion, on Tuesday, was the unveiling of its Open Collaborative Architecture or OCA.

OCA is a management framework aimed at creating broader and deeper interoperability between Symantec applications, as well as products from other vendors.

Managing an array of point products can be one of the biggest frustrations facing IT managers today, Salem noted, adding that such fragmentation within the IT product portfolio is a pervasive problem.

OCA, he said, would offer Symantec customers a way to easily manage their diverse set of products – and build complex, multi-disciplinary systems tailored to different business needs.

Achieving such integration is crucial, he said, as Symantec’s product portfolio has expanded tremendously over the past few years, and now covers three key areas – security, information management and storage.

“We’re using [OCA] for our own products in client and server management suites. Now we’ll continue the integration with Symantec Endpoint Protection, Backup Exec System Recover, Veritas Configuration Manager and so on.”

Industry observers have commented on the need for suite vendors to develop frameworks that allow for the integration of third party products that can be centrally managed.

Today’s Open Collaborative Infrastructure announcement by Symantec could go a long way to meeting this need.

Symantec executives also emphasize the business benefits of OCA.

“IT organizations often have the right people, tools and best practices in place but lack the resources to connect them in a way that provides business value,” said Brad Kingsbury, senior vice-president of endpoint security and management at Symantec.

Reduced IT management costs through standardization and automation is one of the big benefits OCA adoption is expected to offer Symantec customers.

Other potential paybacks include tighter security controls, the ability to share information more easily between multiple departments and teams, and a workflow that allows customers to implement IT processes efficiently.

Smaller companies could also benefit a great deal from the integration OCA provides, Salem noted. We see this as a great opportunity for firms with 50 – 300 employees.

In some cases, he said, they have fewer resources, so it’s more important for them to have an integrated “solution” of security, backup and systems management.

Small biz and SaaS

Symantec’s emphasis on software as a service (SaaS) is another conference highlight with a special significance for small and mid-sized businesses.

Salem said over the few years, most Symantec products would be available over the Internet via the SaaS model.

“We will deliver capabilities such as backup and storage as a service over the Web – as it makes a lot of sense,” the Symantec COO said. “So does message filtering or managing devices over the Internet.”

But he said in the case of some core infrastructure offering “such as our file systems” – this option would probably not be available.

Again SaaS could be a way for a small business, knowledge workers or consumers to directly get access to the services they need, Salem noted.

“In the very near future, if you’re a consumer or small business, you will be able to go to a Web site, indicate who you are, and be charged by the month to ensure your security, do your backups, ensure data level protection, get connectivity options for communications.”

He cited the example of Norton 360, which while marketed to a consumer audience, has integrated online backup, endpoint security and other capabilities – all delivered over the Internet.  A small business owner may want some of these the capabilities, he said.

At the same time, the Symantec COO debunked the notion that SaaS – or software delivered over the Internet cloud – is only something small businesses would be interested in.

“Large enterprises will also use SaaS,” he said. He said in his conversations with a CIO of “one of largest financial institutions”, the latter indicated that for at least some company employees, applications would delivered via SaaS.

While, in future, an increasing part of Symantec’s business will be from SaaS, Salem said the model will take time to get accepted and adopted.

For the next three years, he said, on-premise deployment will continue to be the dominant way the company’s software is used.

But he said when SaaS takes off – as it will – it’s likely to trigger an entirely new licensing model.

Traditional software sales, he noted, follow a license-maintenance approach. “You pay a license fee and an annual maintenance fee. SaaS moves more to a subscription model. You lease or rent the software – because you don’t own the infrastructure, it’s being delivered to you. In that delivery you’re paying for – per user, or per desktop, or per device.”

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