How To Thrive In VMware's Shadow - InformationWeek
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Ratmir Timashev
Ratmir Timashev
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How To Thrive In VMware's Shadow

Veeam started out to supply backup services for VMware environments but quickly grew out of that niche. Consider these lessons it learned along the way.

Editor's note: We asked Veeam, a supplier of backup services in the VMware market, to explain what it's like to occupy a niche -- and survive -- in a larger company's market. Veeam is one of the few such companies to thrive. Its growth was such that it caught the attention of VMware, which excluded it from its Partner Exchange event last January, even though Veeam was a long-term partner.

Everyday there's a new enterprise technology, startup launch, or funding round with a multibillion-dollar valuation. What I find most interesting, though, is that so many of these are primarily adding value to an existing platform.

Plenty of storage and database startups are leveraging public cloud to provide new capabilities, while networking startups are building on top of nascent software-defined networking (SDN) platforms to enable additional functionality; and a whole host of software companies are taking advantage of virtualization to enable functionality that was once thought infeasible.

Many of these companies are filling in the gaps on the platforms they're supporting, though that's not said to minimize their achievements. But for a company to truly come into its own, it must eventually declare itself independent of its initial target platform and offer value beyond "filling a gap."

Virtualization, the platform on which Veeam's technologies are built, is a particularly interesting place to be. Veeam, along with many other companies, provides backup software that was tailored specifically for a virtual environment. In years past, VMware had more than enough on its plate with its hypervisor and was happy to leave functions like backup to partners.

Now, as VMware grows from a hypervisor company into a software-defined datacenter company, it's pushing into areas it had previously left up to the ecosystem. VMware's VSAN can be viewed as a threat to hyper-converged platforms such as Nutanix and Simplivity, while the introduction of vSphere Data Protection Advanced (VDP-A) was seen by many as a second try at Veeam's backup and data-protection market.

[Want to learn more about the backup function in the virtualized datacenter? See Backing Up Virtual Machines.]

Sure, there is some increased competition from VMware, but Veeam's strategy has long been not just to stay ahead of competitors' functionality. Rather, we have always aimed to develop our functionality to the point that it is no longer simply filling a gap in a platform, but instead it serves as a fundamental enabling technology in its own right.

For example, from the beginning, we didn't just want to offer backup -- we wanted to combine backup with replication in a single product. In a virtualized world, servers are just images on a disk, so the processes are similar enough that it just made sense to include both. This gave IT more data-protection power for a much lower cost.

In another example, Veeam developed the capability to run a VM directly from the backup file. This enables IT to do things that are impossible in a physical environment: Instantly recover a server after it goes down, verify that every backup will recover properly, and create a virtual copy of the entire environment to test the effects of new configurations or deployments.

These new technologies transformed backup from a mere insurance policy into an enabler of the always-on business, which has become a major goal for enterprise IT. Business has changed, and there is no longer any such thing as "downtime." Everyone expects to have access to data and applications at any time, from any place, and from any device. Veeam was able to break free of "filling a gap" because we never modeled our product on traditional backup environments. Instead, Veeam has attempted to take full advantage of virtualization to either create new capabilities (such as those enabled by vPower) or to incorporate what had been entire product sets (WAN acceleration, replication, item recovery from SharePoint, etc.) as features in a flagship product.

So, what lessons have we learned that might help other companies whose products build on a larger company's platform? Early on in your company's development, you have to perform a delicate dance and develop a thick skin. After all, you need to nurture a partnership with the company that makes the platform on which your product is built.

At the same time, you may become a target for the platform company if it launches a product that competes with yours. So take advantage of opportunities to support additional platforms. For instance, while Microsoft Hyper-V's customer base was small in 2011 when Veeam introduced Hyper-V support, it was growing quickly. IT departments increasingly had to support both VMware and Hyper-V environments. Veeam enabled IT to protect both environments from a single console. This helped IT, but it also made Veeam less dependent on a single platform.

Yes, it's a tricky dance when you're building an enterprise solution on top of a much larger company's platform, but it's one that's well worth doing. So long as you continue to innovate and can identify and respond to new market demands, you can eventually create enough value so that you're no longer playing a supporting role in the chorus. You could be out on center stage yourself.

NIST's cyber security framework gives critical-infrastructure operators a new tool to assess readiness. But will operators put this voluntary framework to work? Read the Protecting Critical Infrastructure issue of InformationWeek Government today.

Ratmir Timashev is the founder, CEO and president of Veeam Software, supplier of data protection products for virtualized systems. Timashev has more than a decade of experience in the software industry. He was the co-founder of Aelita Software in 1997, which developed Windows ... View Full Bio
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User Rank: Ninja
5/28/2014 | 11:10:39 AM
Re: Becoming a feature instead of filling a gap
I agree!  With large platform companies like VMware, it's impossible to expect them to be able to develop every tool required to manage the environment.  Instead of trying to do everything only decently well, relying on third parties to create industry-leading functionality that layers on top of the platform is a smart move.  Not only does it strengthen the overall ecosystem which drives more adoption, but it allows for these third-parties to create competitive offerings that drive the overall market.  Companies simply cannot expect to be the sole creator of all products related to their ecosystem, it's partners that will drive increased adoption by delivering new solutions that take the benefits of the platform and deliver the capabilities that customers are looking for.
Charlie Babcock
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
5/27/2014 | 5:08:07 PM
Becoming a feature instead of filling a gap
When a third party does something for the user that neither of two primary suppliers is willing to do, then it's providing an independent value-add and customers recognize it. Veeam let virtualization managers back up both ESX Server and Hyper-V virtual machines at the same time. Veeam also realized earlier than others that virtualization aollowed backup to be combined with replication, two formerly distinct functions. When servers are a set of files on a disk, they can be replicated frequently, like the data they're using.
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