The early history of Enterprise Vault

Symantec’s Enterprise Vault (EV) product is possibly the industry-leading archive product for email. I say possibly because there are many different perspectives on this point that depend very much on the context of the observer. For instance, I’m sure that Microsoft is very happy with the progress that they have made with the range of compliance features that they introduced in Exchange 2010 (and completed in Exchange 2010 SP1), amongst which are archive mailboxes. And HP will point to their Information Archive and their $10 billion purchase of Autonomy as evidence of their serious intent in archiving and indexing information from multiple sources. And there are other companies too, each worthy in their own way but too many to mention here.

But I didn’t start out to list archiving products. Nor did I want to say what I think is the best in terms of supporting Exchange as that’s just a fool’s errand because the requirements of each company can differ so radically. What I wanted to do is to draw your attention to an item posted in the email museum that describes the early days of EV and how the product evolved from an add-on for Digital’s ALL-IN-1 OfficeServer that leveraged the considerable amount of work that Digital had done to develop the AltaVista search engine to a point where it was sold by Compaq to venture capitalists who funded a company called KVS that shipped the original “Enterprise Vault” product.

The post, by Nigel Dutt (the CTO of KVS), brought back many memories. EV came about because Digital needed new software products to replace the likes of ALL-IN-1. As Nigel explains, the original concept was good enough to attract the support of people who worked on the “Alliance for Enterprise Computing” (AEC), an agreement reached by Bill Gates and Bob Palmer (then CEO of Digital) in August 1995 to work together to bring Microsoft applications to the enterprise. Digital hoped to build a hardware business around Windows NT running on the Alpha platform and so gave up some of its business in areas where they felt that it would be difficult to complete with Microsoft. Email was one of those businesses and a lot of work was done to support the launch of Exchange 4.0 in March 1996.

Under AEC, the Digital Enterprise Vault was reengineered from scratch to support Exchange and became the first product to be able to archive messages from Exchange mailboxes, well before Microsoft supported even basic journaling in Exchange. I have strong memories of hearing many war stories from the engineers as they grappled with the complexity of developing on the Windows NT platform, especially in understanding the many mysteries of MAPI, which was not a well documented interface outside Microsoft. In fact, the Digital engineers made credible claims that they found many bugs in MAPI that Microsoft benefited from by fixing to increase the stability of Exchange!

Remember that this was a world when the Internet was still immature and web sites were slowly growing in importance and content. It was difficult to find information and TechNet was still distributed on CDs. If someone had a problem with MAPI or another NT API, they debugged the issue as much as they could and then sent a problem report to Microsoft, who might eventually respond. Even with a corporate agreement like AEC in place, the lines of communications often flowed like treacle and it took enormous dedication to develop a product to work alongside a brand-new server application like Exchange.

In any case, Compaq eventually bought Digital in June 1998 and inherited AEC. But Compaq was not a software company at heart (unless you think of BIOS-level utilities) and it rapidly became apparent that enterprise software products did not have a long-term future inside Compaq. As Nigel relates in his piece, the EV team, based in Reading (England), was laid off in August 1999 in one of the swingeing cuts that large corporations specialize in when it comes to cutting costs. Thankfully the EV team was rescued by funding provided by Durlacher, a venture capital firm, and were able to recommence operations as KVS in November 1999 and ship V2.0 of Enterprise Vault in February 2000. This week’s announcement that the Microsoft Exchange Conference is returning evoked another recollection of Durlacher hosting a reception for EV customers and partners on a yacht moored in Nice harbor at a European MEC event in 2001. Many glasses of good rose wine were quaffed that evening to celebrate the success of KVS in shipping EVS.

The story (to be related in part 2 of Nigel’s contribution to the email museum) laid to KVS being acquired by Veritas who were then acquired by Symantec to end up with today’s Symantec EV product. Some of the original EV engineers, including Derek Allan (now a VP), still work on Enterprise Vault and certainly provide enormous continuity of vision, experience, and expertise in this space for the future development of their product. As for Nigel? Well, he’s enjoying a richly deserved retirement and contemplating how EV survived the trauma of its early days to take a leading position in the archiving space. All in all, not a bad story!

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