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Enterprise Vault: The Early Days, 1997-2000

Editor’s Note: Enterprise Vault is the leading email archiving product. The museum is delighted to have this posting from Nigel Dutt, one of the product’s founders. Nigel is also a good example of how highly skilled engineers can become successful entrepreneurs. And along the way, they motivate the rest of us.–David Ferris

Conception

The genesis of Enterprise Vault was early in 1997. At that time Digital had decided to cut back investment in its own office product, ALL-IN-1 OfficeServer running on Open VMS, in favour of putting its weight behind Microsoft’s Exchange. Although, of course, this was not a happy proposition for the ALL-IN-1 engineering group based in Reading, it was arguably sensible for Digital in the long term. The plan was for the ALL-IN-1 team to be dramatically reduced following a major release and for the engineers to be moved to a yet to be defined new product that was to be some sort of add-on for Exchange installations.

The original product we proposed was a large scale, searchable store for unstructured information, harnessing Digital’s own Altavista search and various Digital storage technologies. As originally presented it had various target scenarios including email archiving; however, one of our product marketeers, who had just returned to Digital from a role as an early Exchange manager opined that the email archiving target would be worth pursuing in its own right.

So in May we made the “big pitch” to the relevant funding SVP with a product called “The Information Warehouse”. The proposition was for a central, searchable, scalable and cost-effective archive repository for email collected online from multiple email servers, the initial target being Exchange. The target drivers were storage management, regulatory retention and knowledge preservation. We got the go-ahead for this and the development project started, using the engineers now freed up from ALL-IN-1 3.2, who all retrained for the NT (later to become Windows) platform. Quite early in the project we renamed the product to “Digital Enterprise Vault”.

Birth

After the usual torrid software development cycle and quite a long struggle to get some intransigent bugs out of the major beta test at Goldman Sachs, the product was finally released to manufacturing late on Christmas Eve 1998, if for no other reason than that the engineering team wanted to join their families for the holidays. By the time of shipping, Compaq had acquired Digital and so the product actually went out as “Compaq Enterprise Vault V1.0”.

Initially the Vault only addressed mailbox archiving because Exchange journaling hadn’t shipped at the time, but that major feature was added to the Vault in a point release shortly afterwards, once the Exchange feature had shipped.

Eclipse

By August 1999, two point releases of the Vault had been shipped, twenty or so sales had been made and a number of pilots were under way. Then, following the usual early warning signs as Compaq cut down on the software side of the business, the product was cancelled and the whole engineering team was made redundant. The very next day we all stood outside and watched a total eclipse of the sun, which seemed somehow symbolic at the time. While most of the group went off on their gardening leave, a few of us stayed behind to produce an “unarchive” tool to enable the existing customers to restore everything back to Exchange from their Vaults.

Rebirth as KVS

While this was going on, and since the investment climate at the time was very good, we decided to pitch the Vault as a viable basis for a new software company. At the time the Vault was the only purpose-built email archiving product shipping, the nearest thing to a competitor being the UNIX-based Storagetek product, so we felt we had a strong proposition.

One of the first people approached was Durlacher, who were at the time the hottest thing in technical venture funding in the UK. They immediately went for the proposal and came up with the initial tranche of money. So, almost before we knew what had happened, we were starting a company.

On November 9th 1999 kVault Software (KVS) was formed; the “k” being for “knowledge” which at the time was just supplanting “e” as the trendy prefix of choice. The company started with twenty two of the redundant engineers and two administrators. Nigel Dutt (CTO), Eileen Christie (VP Engineering) and Derek Allan (product architect) continued with the roles they had had in Compaq (and a lot more besides) and Edward Forwood of Durlacher was acting CEO.

Unfortunately, Compaq played hardball and set a take-it-or-leave-it price of several million dollars for the IP, to be paid over four years, unlike other employee spin-offs who had only been charged a nominal amount. However, they were well motivated to please the existing customers, so when we started KVS we were hosted in the same desks at Compaq that we had just left, albeit with special KVS badged entry cards. On February 14th 2000 we shipped KVS Enterprise Vault V2.0 from those premises and shortly afterwards we moved to our own address, and finally felt like a “proper company”.

As an aside, when looking for a home for us and the product in 1999 I approached Veritas, who replied “no thanks, we are planning to do our own thing” – something I reminded them of when they acquired us in 2004!

To be continued…..

About the Author

Having been in software engineering since 1970, Nigel Dutt worked from 1986 to 1999 at Digital Equipment Corporation (later Compaq) in the Enterprise Software Products Group, for most of that time on the engineering side of the ALL-IN-1 office system. Later, as a consulting engineer and the group’s technical director, Nigel had overall responsibility for the technical strategy and architecture of the company’s office and email products and for new products such as Enterprise Vault. After the product’s cancellation by Compaq he was co-founder of KVS and remained its Chief Technology Officer until its acquisition by Veritas. He retired at the end of 2005 after working on the transition of Enterprise Vault into Veritas and then Symantec.

One Trackback

  1. By Enterprise Vault: The KVS Years, 2000-2004 on June 11, 2012 at 8:39 PM

    [...] the first article, I covered the origins of Enterprise Vault up to the point where we had started up KVS at the very [...]

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