The European Union gave Symantec's $13.5 billion offer to acquire Veritas Software its blessing, saying that the merger would not hinder competition in Europe.

The finding eliminates the last major stumbling block for the purchase, which is slated to be completed in the second quarter 2005.

"The commission's examination of the deal showed that the horizontal overlaps between the activities of Symantec and Veritas are very limited and that the combined firm will continue to face several strong competitors with significant market shares," the EU said in a statement Wednesday.

The EU also said it examined possible effects of the merger, such as bundling and interoperability issues between storage and security software. It concluded that the merger would not give rise to competition concerns because there are alternative software providers.

This statement legitimizes comments made by Symantec CEO John W. Thompson, who said the merger represents a convergence of storage and security in the software market.

Coinciding with the EU's blessing, Symantec announced a new security threat assessment service that embodies the same qualities company officials said would typify the Veritas merger.

The Symantec Systems Continuity Service (SSCS) uncovered a new service that pinpoints vulnerabilities and attack points in a customer's IT equipment. The service offers an audit of a company's servers, desktops and laptops, operating systems, storage, security and applications to find flaws or holes, the company said in a statement.

Consultants will then provide an action list and make recommendations to help a business protect against and mitigate system attacks or disasters. The assessment includes a software and storage gap analysis, describing any discrepancies between the business' critical needs and their current environments.

The service is consistent with the Cupertino, Calif., company's goal of helping its software clients develop a "more resilient IT infrastructure."

This is a theme Symantec CEO John W. Thompson has preached since announcing the play for Veritas last December, with various analysts and rivals ruminating on the deal.

A more resilient infrastructure will help corporations retain the crucial data and information they've created, procured or exchanged, which is an important priority in the wake of industry and regulatory compliance requirements. SSCS specifically addresses standards and regulations, including Sarbanes-Oxley, Gramm-Leach-Bliley and HIPAA.

To eliminate risks and shore up IT systems, industry experts and analysts believe safeguarding against server and network vulnerabilities requires a joint effort between IT security and operations groups. Policy, which usually determines who has access to what, must be well managed and airtight.

SSCS will be delivered by Symantec professional services consultants or certified partners.