Symantec-Altiris deal wins early praise from admins

IT managers say Symantec's acquisition of Altiris sounds like a good fit. But Symantec's track record on management is a little iffy.

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Symantec Corp.'s acquisition of Altiris Inc. is winning early praise from IT administrators, but comments include some of the natural concerns about whether or not certain products will continue to be supported.

On Monday, Symantec bought systems management software provider, Lindon, Utah-based Altiris, in a deal valued at $830 million. Product lines across both companies are largely complementary, as Symantec's focus is on security software and backup software and Altiris has a strong presence with its management tools, desktop virtualization and configuration management database.

The combination of both companies was generally met with positive reaction.

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"We don't really have any concerns," said Jack Nielsen, a desktop architecture expert at Ashland Inc., a Covington, Ky.-based petroleum products company. "We've worked with both companies," he said.

Ashland uses Symantec's Antivirus and Ghost products as well as Wise Package Studio. Altiris acquired Wise Solutions Inc. in 2003. "The Wise acquisition seemed to strengthen Altiris so maybe this will [also] be a step up," Nielsen said.

Another IT manager said that although he believed the merger would be good for both companies, he wondered whether Symantec will keep what he likes about Altiris.

"I love [Altiris] support," said Matt Giblin, a senior desktop engineer at Mercy Health Services, a healthcare provider in Baltimore. "It's one of the better pieces of the company. I hope Symantec takes a hard look at that and grows upon it."

Giblin runs the Altiris Notification Server administrator and the company's desktop virtualization software. "You have to stay positive and hope [Symantec] will stay the course," he said.

But mergers often raise fears among IT managers that a product line will go away.

Joseph Fleming, an IT manager at Blue Cross Blue Shield in Helena, Mont., uses Altiris software for server, patch and incident management. Fleming said his first thoughts about the acquisition were about the impact it will have on Altiris product support. "We have some other Symantec products and haven't been pleased with [Symantec] support," he said.

Initial reports suggest that Altiris will remain separate, which pleases Fleming because he also finds Altiris support responsive. "But it's only a matter of time before Symantec starts rolling [Altiris support] into their own," he added.

And just because Symantec invests in a company doesn't mean it will continue the investment, said Fred Broussard, an analyst at IDC, a market research firm in Framingham, Mass.

Although the companies have complementary products, Symantec does have some history of making acquisitions in the manageability market and allowing tools to drift off into oblivion, he said. One example Broussard pointed to is Symantec's acquisition of enterprise infrastructure management vendor On Technology Corp. for $100 million in 2003.

Symantec also cut a partnership deal with IT asset management vendor Centennial Software Ltd. in Portland, Ore. Altiris technologies duplicate the products manufactured by those vendors.

"Symantec is putting out a message of data protection, and the [Altiris] acquisition resonates with that," Broussard said. "It sounds great from a production functionality standpoint, but the devil will be in the details."

The investment of Symantec in Altiris service management portfolio will be good for IT shops because it will provide resources to Altiris, said Jon Collins, service director at Freeform Dynamics Ltd., a consulting firm in Hampshire, England. "[Symantec] can build on the strength of Altiris and its product sets," he said.

"Altiris is a company that punches more than its weight," Collins said. "It definitely reaches a point when it will hit the vendor glass ceiling and can only go so far."

Christina Torode contributed to this story.

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