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Symantec hopes to quiet Backup Exec 2012 upgrade complaints

Customers unhappy with Backup Exec 2012 upgrade say they look forward to the restoration of the popular Job Monitor from previous versions.

Formerly unhappy Backup Exec 2012 customers applauded Symantec's changes to its SMB backup application following criticism of the software on user forums and social media. However, customers are still waiting for the most important alteration to show up in an anticipated service pack update.

Symantec felt the sting of a customer backlash after it changed Backup Exec's view from a job-centric interface to a server-centric interface with the release of the Backup Exec 2012 upgrade last March.

A forum on the Symantec Connect Community website devoted to the upgrade was filled with user complaints about the interface and other issues. There were also threads of unhappy users in a Spiceworks Community forum and on Twitter.

When Symantec switched CEOs from Enrique Salem to Stephen Bennett in July, executives cited fixing Backup Exec 2012 as one of the vendor's key challenges.

Symantec invited customers who complained about the Backup Exec 2012 upgrade on forums to meet with the application's developers and product managers at its Heathrow, Fla., engineering site on June 13-14. Nine users accepted the offer.

Two customers who attended the meeting told that Symantec's team listened to their complaints about the product. Symantec's staff also showed the attendees the fixes they were developing or had completed for Backup Exec.

One of those improvements was an "All Jobs" button that lets customers see their running jobs for a server in one place, which was included in the Backup Exec 2012 service pack 1 (SP 1) upgrade. The service pack was released the day before the meeting with customers in Heathrow.

The customers were pleased with that, but a cheer went up when the Symantec team said it would restore the popular Job Monitor view in SP 2.

Justin Livitski, a systems analyst for Canadian IT service provider Lowerys, attended the Heathrow meeting and gave Symantec credit for listening and reacting to the complaints.

"My main thing was the user interface," said Livitski, who has been using Backup Exec for 10 years. "I was pretty disgruntled, but after going down and meeting them, they listened to what we had to say. I'm looking forward to what they promised in the next release, but I'm in wait-and-see mode. I'm waiting to see if the changes come to fruition."

Livitski's complaints in the Symantec Connect forum centered mostly on the re-design.  Many users agreed with him, but there were other issues. Julian Moorhouse, IT manager of Commercial & Industrial Property (CIP) in Sydney, Australia, posted a list of complaints with Backup Exec 2012 on Spiceworks. Those criticisms included no longer being able to schedule multiple servers in a single job, slower backups and a "shiny but horrible and messy interface."

Moorhouse, another 10-year Backup Exec user, made the long trek to Heathrow to voice his displeasure.

"I'm always up for a challenge, but I was one of those people pretty upset about the whole thing," he said.

"I don't think Symantec realized how many people relied on the old job-centric method. People were upset about going to a server-centric method. [In Florida], we said, 'You locked the feature [Job Monitor] that was really useful for us.'"

Moorhouse and Livitski agreed the Florida meeting was fruitful, and they expect the session to lead to a substantially improved Backup Exec 2012.

"I was expecting some kind of bribery, that they would try to shower us with free licenses or something like that," Moorhouse said. "I wasn't expecting much. When I got there, I was quite surprised to see it was two days of actual work. They allowed us to take as long as we wanted to have a rant in front of them. They addressed every point."

Livitski also said he was surprised by the attention Symantec paid to his complaints in Heathrow.

"We were expecting a dog-and-pony show and a bunch of sales propaganda, but it wasn't like that," he said. "It was more like, 'What is your pain and how can we fix it?' Symantec people listened intently, and others were coding while we talked. I was impressed."

Besides the All Jobs button, SP 1 included performance enhancements and other fixes. A second upgrade, SP 1a, followed in early August with other minor features and bug fixes.

But the news that received applause in Heathrow was the return of the Job Monitor view, which is scheduled for release with SP 2 in the fall. The Job Monitor shows customers all their backup jobs and job history for all servers in one pane. A scheduler upgrade to allow customers to exclude dates for a specific backup job is also planned for SP 2.

"Service pack 1 hasn't changed my experience much," Livitski said.  "We live in Job Monitor view. When I start, that's the page I expect to open and I want to see my jobs and job logs on one page. That's the biggest adjustment to the new version. You have to toggle back and forth between servers, and each server has a different page of information. We insisted that we wanted the Job Monitor back."

Moorhouse said he too liked having his scheduled backup jobs and job history on one screen when he opened Backup Exec.

"What we wanted is what they're proposing in the next release," he said. "It's important for them to make sure whatever they bring out next, the need to make sure this is the one [that adds the Job Monitor]."

An SP 3 is also planned with support for multi-server backup jobs, and the ability to prioritize server backup order and confirm multiple server backups in one job to one tape.

When Symantec switched CEOs in June, CFO James Beer said it would take six to nine months to straight out the Backup Exec problems. Still, Symantec's Backup Exec product team members say the original changes were needed to bring the product up to date with the latest technologies. They argue that Backup Exec 2012 is better suited to virtual machine and disk-based backups than Backup Exec 2010. And they point out the Symantec user forum thread included only a tiny sampling of Backup Exec's massive customer base.

"In our segment, nobody likes change," said Amit Walia, Symantec's VP of product management for Backup Exec.

But Walia said the focus for Backup Exec 2012 was "next-generation bleeding edge technologies around virtualization, the rapid transition to disk, cloud, and distributed applications.

"This has been a very forward-looking application for us."

Unhappy as they were, Moorhouse and Livitski said they came close to moving to another backup application.

Moorhouse said although "other vendors were circling like vultures," he never looked for another backup app because Symantec responded quickly to his posts on the user forum. He said Symantec put a member of the Backup Exec product management team, a product designer and interface designer on the phone with him before the Florida meeting.

Livitski said he briefly considered switching but could not find any other applications that came close to meeting his needs. Because his job requires him to work with multiple organizations, switching would have been more trouble than it was worth.

"Some of the other products on the market are just brutal," he said. "I have about 150 licenses registered, so I'm not just switching one environment. Switching a lot of customers would be a bigger headache than getting Symantec to fix Backup Exec."

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