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Symantec's Thompson: SSDs will drive out tape

Symantec CEO John Thompson sat down for a Q&A to talk about how SSDs will bury tape, coopetition with VMware and streamlining Symantec product lines.

LAS VEGAS -- Symantec Corp. CEO John Thompson kicked off Symantec's annual Vision conference with a keynote speech that outlined its perspective on current technology trends and plans for future product integration. Shortly after the speech, Thompson offered more details in a one-on-one interview with

In your keynote, you referred to solid-state drives (SSD) as a hot item in the disk-based backup arena. Is Symantec planning to release software to manage solid-state drives?

John Thompson: It's less about announcing support for solid-state drives as it is a point about solid-state drives becoming a more important part of the infrastructure and accelerating migration to disk-based backup. Solid-state drives mean the storage tiering process adds yet another layer -- so you have high-performance solid-state drives, high-performance hard drives and low-performance, high-capacity disk drives. In that world, you don't need tape. Low-performance hard drives can take over that role from tape media. As the economics change, solid-state drives could become even cheaper than high-performance hard drives and everything else would fall in price, pushing a more rapid migration to a disk-based storage environment.

On another hot storage topic, Symantec seems to have a complex relationship with VMware. Some of your people have mentioned they think Symantec can do better when it comes to clustered file systems, for example, and you introduced your own virtual infrastructure. How do you see the VMware relationship playing out?

Thompson: Like many companies in technology, we take a coopetition attitude. We cooperate where customers need the support and compete where we think we can solve the problem better.

We've been in the file system business longer than VMware has been a company. We know more about file systems and how they're managed, especially across different domains. It's highly likely that users will have heterogeneous virtual infrastructures, and to the extent that common component parts are advantageous, we will continue to work with VMware. But, we'll also do the same for Xen and Hyper-V. VxVI [Veritas Virtual Infrastructure] exploits that heterogeneous support -- we're more than willing to do the same with VMware if they're open to it.

There is talk VMware might be looking to replace VMFS with a different clustered file system. Is Symantec working with them on that?

We've been in the file system business longer than VMware has been a company. -- John Thompson, Symantec CEO


Thompson: If they're looking for that, we're all ears.

You mentioned a new initiative called the open collaboration architecture. Does that mean we're going to see more integration between products?

Thompson: The open collaboration architecture isn't a product or integration per se. It's a way for us to share information across groups whose products see the same data. So that rather than every product rendering the same data on their own, why not have a common set of services between products and a way to expose APIs to third-party products?

Today, every product that most of our customers deploy has some reporting capability about itself, and within our portfolio to the extent that there's common report writing tools, we already have some integration. But one organization's great report is another organization's pain in the butt. We're looking to integrate not only among our products but with more standard report-writing tools like Crystal Reports. If they can interface with the overall open architecture, they can use our infrastructure for data capture, but using the report-writing capabilities built into what the customer already has in place.

You've recently denied that certain business units, such as NetBackup might be spun off. But it seems like a lot of features are being developed for Backup Exec first, only hitting NetBackup later. Doesn't that make NetBackup look like the secondary product?

Thompson: Maybe that's why Deepak [Mohan, formerly vice president for Backup Exec] is now leading the whole data protection business. [Ed note: Thompson declined further comment, but at a later session with Mohan, he said cross-developing features between the two backup products is a priority. He added that it's a coincidence that Backup Exec features have been ported into NetBackup first, adding that NetBackup's VMware client will be making its way into Backup Exec soon.]

Is Symantec in an acquisitive mood? What technology areas look appealing right now?

Thompson: I don't know that there's ever a time we're not contemplating something, although not every idea that gets discussed means a deal gets done. Anything around storage management is open to significant investment -- it's a high-growth area. There are areas of security where we don't play today, like ID and access management. Other areas of interest for us would be fortifying our archiving and Enterprise Vault franchise. There are consolidation and extension opportunities we're looking into there also.

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