Channel partners spent much of this week's Symantec partner conference peppering Symantec execs with worried questions about the company's plan to launch a Software as a Service (SaaS) offering this year.
Symantec execs came prepared, however, focusing many of their presentations at the Partner Engage conference in San Diego on the company's plan to make the channel an integral part of its new SaaS push.
Symantec plans to release its Online Backup Service by the end of the year, then expand its SaaS platform, called the Symantec Protection Network, over the next 18 to 24 months.
The company offers training and ongoing support for partners who sell services or are looking to get into that business, and templates for best practices are also available for partners, CEO John Thompson said during a roundtable discussion.
"We shouldn't look at this as some business model that's going to eat up the channel," he said.
Online Backup Service and Symantec's overall shift toward SaaS were on the minds of many of the 300-plus partners who attended the conference. They asked Thompson about it during a morning question-and-answer session, and most of the written questions submitted for an afternoon session with other executives also focused on SaaS.
SaaS is a concern, but Symantec's pledge to make it channel-friendly was reassuring, according to Andrew Grose, president and CEO of Nortec Communications Inc. in Falls Church, Va. With Online Backup Service, for example, partners can either sell and manage the service or just sell it and let customers manage it themselves.
"At least with Symantec we can sell it and make some money off of it," Grose said.
Still, a trend toward SaaS among both software providers and channel companies will force traditional product-oriented resellers to make some changes in the way they do business -- many with help from Symantec, according to Adam Gray, chief technology officer of Novacoast in Santa Barbara, Calif.
"Symantec's done a good job enabling us to do services," he said.
During the afternoon Q&A, global channel vice president Julie Parrish told partners that selling services is a different business model, but one that boils down to a familiar strategy.
"It's something that has an SKU on it that needs to be sold to a customer," she said.
In an earlier roundtable discussion, Parrish said Symantec needs the channel to reach its intended SaaS audience -- small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). SMBs are the target for products like Online Backup Service because they often don't have the resources to store and manage their data themselves.
Partners who sell both products and services will be able to reach more customers and have more success, Randy Cochran, channel vice president for the Americas, said.
"The customer will have the option to go one way or the other. You need to be able to serve them right or left," he said. "If you don't offer that choice, somebody else will."