Symantec took a different approach to the launch of Backup Exec 2014 than it did with Backup Exec 2012.
This time it listened to customers before the rollout.
From a technology standpoint, Symantec Backup Exec (BE) 2014 was largely a fix for shortcomings in BE 2012. Symantec's BE 2012 gaffes included taking out popular features and its failure to support new applications.
Symantec expected to impress users with a new interface and redesigned work process in BE 2012; instead, it made long-time customers angry.
The reaction to BE 2012 proved backup admins are a conservative group, and they don't want something "fixed" unless it is broken. When Symantec made a host of supposed improvements to the backup process in BE 2012, it received strong negative feedback.
Symantec execs at first reacted to the BE 2012 uproar by saying they were "skating to where the puck is going" and predicted their customers would come to appreciate the new features. But too many BE users thought they were already skating with the puck and didn't welcome the changes. They always seek faster backups, of course, but when it came to process, they wanted to keep doing backups as they were used to doing them.
Many unhappy BE 2012 customers wanted Job Monitor back, and they wanted support for the latest Windows applications rather than new features. They also wanted an easier way to upgrade from previous versions. They finally got those things last week in BE 2014, two years after Symantec promised fixes.
Grateful customers gave Symantec credit for finally making the changes in BE 2014, and also listening to their concerns this time before launching the product. Symantec had a large open beta program for BE 2014, including a High Touch group of users who were visited by Symantec personnel during the process.
Julian Moorhouse, a vocal BE 2012 critic, was a member of the High Touch group for Symantec Backup Exec 2014. The IT manager at Commercial and Industrial Property in Australia said Symantec sent a senior product manager from Florida and another from India to his Sydney office during the beta program.
"I think Symantec learned a valuable lesson by missing the boat on platform support in the 2012 version of BE," he wrote in an email to SearchDataBackup when asked about the BE 2014 beta. "By the sounds of things at Symantec, this is something they will never let happen again."
Moorhouse admitted he came to embrace the server-centric backup job creation method added to BE 2012, although he complained at first when that replaced the multi-server job function. Now that the multi-server function is back, he said he doesn't use it because he likes the new way better. He understands Symantec's point that backing up all servers in one job means an entire backup can be ruined by a problem with one server.
Similarly, Horizon Business Services director of IT Jacob Ackerman said he barely uses the Job Monitor now that is back, even though he was unhappy when Symantec removed it from BE 2012. He also grew to like the new interface from BE 2012.
"I really hated it at first," he said. "But once I got used to it, I actually liked it better, especially with virtual servers."
Better communication between Symantec and its BE customers could have smoothed reaction to the new features in BE 2012 before their release.
After the release of BE 2012, Symantec was criticized for not having an extensive beta program that would have pointed out the problems before general availability (GA). The BE 2014 beta program started in February, nearly four months ahead of GA. Brian Greene, Symantec senior director of product management, said more than 3,800 customers registered for the beta and more than 900 provided feedback.
"We did our homework with this release," Greene said. "We wanted to get back to our roots to fill unmet needs our customers were asking for."
By replacing popular features with newer ones, Greene said, "We forced customers to pick a path in 2012. With this release, we brought [the paths] together. Now they don't have to pick a path."
Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) senior analyst Jason Buffington said it is obvious that Symantec listened to customers before the BE 2014 release.
"They took it on the chin a little with so much radical change [to BE 2012]," he said. "To their credit, there were a lot of executives on a lot of planes flying to meet and listen to critics. They put back the things that needed to be there for the faithful, and kept the innovation [from BE 2012]. This brings back the things that people have relied on Backup Exec to do for decades and adds manageability needed for the modern data center."
Interestingly, a lot of unhappy BE customers stayed with the product despite the 2012 changes, even if many did not upgrade from BE 2010. That proves customers are reluctant to rip and replace their backup software. Still, Symantec took a financial hit with BE revenue over the past two years. Its executives -- including two fired CEOs -- often found themselves having to assure customers and investors they were working on fixing BE.
Symantec still has problems, but at least now it is listening to what customers want.