Vision Committed to Developing ORION
March 20, 2007 Alex Woodie
High availability software provider Vision Solutions is committed to continuing development of ORION, the i5/OS high availability product it sold before the acquisition of competitor iTera last year. While the iTera HA product will capture the bulk of new sales, Vision currently has no plans to stop selling or end support for ORION, which has about 2,000 users around the globe. To drive the point home, the company issued a new release of ORION yesterday.
Vision Solutions is in the same boat that many ISVs find themselves in after making acquisitions (or, more accurately, after Vision’s parent company, Thoma Cressey Equity Partners, made acquisitions). After buying up competitors, companies put themselves in the position of owning multiple and disparate product lines, and they have customers who rely on those products. How do you navigate the management of those products? Which product do you position out front to do battle with the remaining competitors, and do you scuttle the oldest, weakest product and move those customers to one of the newer and better products? These are tough questions that each acquirer has to answer.
In Vision’s case, the company is taking a hybrid approach. It has stopped selling and plans to end support for one of the products it acquired–the ORION Standard Edition (SE) product it obtained from OS Solutions in 2005–and is moving those (few) ORION SE customers to iTera HA, the former Echo2 product Vision acquired in late 2006. Meanwhile, the company plans to continue steaming ahead with its legacy ORION Datacenter Edition product (now simply referred to as ORION in the wake of ORION SE’s demise), with long-term plans to lash ORION and iTera HA together, creating a third product that features the best elements of ORION and iTera HA.
“ORION Datacenter Edition will continue to be developed and continue to be supported and continue to be sold across the globe,” Nicolaas Vlok, Vision Solutions’ chief executive officer, said in an interview last week. “Although we think from an ease of use and ease of integration perspective, customers will probably opt, in many environments, for iTera HA instead of ORION . . . but any customer can [purchase and get support] for any of the two products.”
Vision has its reasons for this decision. The company has more than 2,000 customers, most of which are ORION users, and forcing them to rip out ORION and replace it with iTera HA in a short-term timeframe is simply unrealistic, especially with today’s longer hardware upgrade cycle. Some of Vision’s customers have invested very heavily in ORION–including one international bank using ORION in hundreds of data centers across the world, some with sophisticated multi-node clusters–and would not take kindly to Vision mandating a move to iTera HA.
A second major reason for the continuance of ORION is that it has features and capabilities that iTera HA doesn’t, at least not yet. Likewise, iTera HA has features that ORION doesn’t, most importantly a remote journaling-based architecture that’s more efficient than the proprietary journal-scrape method that Vision developed for ORION before remote journaling was available.
In the future, Vision plans to move the best of iTera HA’s features to ORION, and vice versa, a strategy of “cross pollination” that Vision intends to bolster each product and make it more like the other. A month ago, Vision issued the first product release reflecting this cross-pollination. iTera HA 5.0 introduced ORION features such as bi-directional library replication and better support for Integrated File System (IFS) files, among other features.
Yesterday, Vision announced the second product release benefiting from the technology sharing. With ORION 2.1, which is scheduled to become generally available May 4, Vision has instituted several new features that have their origins, at least in part, with the iTera HA product, including a new “role swap supervisor” that should streamline the sometimes tenuous process of switching from primary to backup machines.
ORION 2.1 also brings improvements to the management console, called the Navigator GUI, which Vision says has been completely redesigned to simplify monitoring of important replication and role swap functions, in addition to new drill-down capabilities. The release also includes new “performance accelerators” that speed replication, auditing, monitoring, and role-swap processes.
Vlok said the recent releases of ORION and iTera HA benefit from the coming-together of the two products’ engineering and design teams. “Just that process brought up so many ideas,” he said. “We brought out new releases of each of two products that customers can benefit from an ease-of-use, role swap, and ease-of-integration perspective. That was the first step. The plan is to continue to work on both of those products and, in time, cross pollinate, and work toward a converged product.”
Vision has assigned engineers to begin planning and building a converged product. Aside from the fact that it will feature the remote journaling underpinnings of iTera HA, its potential feature set has yet to be publicly disclosed by Vision. The product does not yet have a name, nor a timeline for development. The company’s product roadmaps go out about three years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the company will release, at that time, a third converged product that’s a hybrid of ORION and iTera HA. Much has yet to be decided, and plans could shift, which mandates a degree of caution in public statements in the meantime.
“We do think, in time, the products will merge closer together and, in time, will gradually be one product. Our decision is not to force that but to let it happen over time,” Vlok said. “The bottom line is we’re taking stuff out of each of those two products, cross pollinating where we think is the biggest bang for our buck, and starting work on bringing a converged product that will have important parts from both product sets.”
Meanwhile, Vision’s inside sales team will push the hardest on iTera HA, especially in the North American market, where iTera and Echo2 had their strongest traction. In the global market, where Vision’s ORION is stronger, the shift to iTera HA will take longer, in part because Vision relies more heavily on its reseller channel to sell software. But over time, iTera HA will become an important product sold overseas, too.
The key will be to communicate with customers and satisfy their high availability requirements, according to Vlok. “We’ve launched a concerted effort, calling each of our customers, making sure they’re on board and, if they want to speak with an executive, we’ve made the people available,” he said. “My philosophy is, if customers are if happy, there’s no reason to force them in an upgrade path of a product out there today.”