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Partners differ on progress in Symantec vs. Microsoft security battle

Colin Steele, Executive Editor
Symantec Corp. has been aggressively courting the small and medium-sized business (SMB) market recently. But only part of that effort is due to the

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industry-wide focus on SMB customers, according to analysts and Symantec channel partners.

The rest is strictly competitive: a way for Symantec to maintain ground in what has become -- in marketing terms at least -- the Symantec vs. Microsoft security battle.

But no matter how often Symantec CEO John Thompson cites Microsoft as an emerging competitor and then criticizes its performance, partners of both companies differ on whether Microsoft is really competing head to head with Symantec in the highly competitive security market.

Microsoft announced it would get into the security business in a big way three years ago, but the Symantec vs. Microsoft security showdown ramped up in May, when Microsoft announced its managed security suite, Forefront Security Client, which competes directly against Symantec's own Symantec Endpoint Protection.

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Now Symantec is targeting SMBs with the Symantec Protection Network, a security SaaS offering that will debut later this year with Online Backup Service. Company executives have told partners they will take a channel-centric approach to selling the Symantec Protection Network, and Thompson recently said that Symantec will need to "out-innovate" Microsoft to continue its success.

"All of the vendors have pretty much come out and said, 'We're going to target the SMB sector,' and so I think this is going to be a highly competitive area," said Erin TenWolde, a senior SaaS analyst for IDC.

Symantec is going for SMB customers with its SaaS platform because SaaS is easier to deploy, requires less hardware and software to buy and maintain, and is often less expensive, TenWolde said.

"The opportunity for Symantec is to reach smaller customers, and the way to do that is through the channel," said Darren Bibby, a senior channel analyst for IDC. "This is something that Symantec could have easily tried to do on their own. But I think with Symantec Protection Network, there's an opportunity there for the configuration and optimization of those services."

Shavlik Technologies, an independent systems integrator (ISV) in Roseville, Minn., works with both sides in the Symantec vs. Microsoft security fight, but CEO Mark Shavlik said Microsoft's managed security suite, Forefront Client Security, is "a complete nonissue."

"It just doesn't come up," he said. "The industry's mature, so it's hard for a Microsoft to even get into it."

However, Microsoft has a built-in customer base through its Office desktop applications and other popular software and hardware. As more customers look for one company to handle all of their IT needs, that could give Microsoft an advantage in the security battle vs. Symantec, Shavlik said.

"You have to have the customer locked in," he said. "[Symantec needs] to keep fighting."

Jon Smith, CEO of ITonCommand, a Microsoft partner in Denver, agreed -- especially in the area of services, which he said is becoming an increasingly important part of Microsoft's business.

"Symantec and McAfee are going to go, 'Wait a second here,'" he said. "They better get into it, because there's some big companies coming. They better be launching services, or they won't be here."

Smith also said he is surprised that most security vendors are not making major pushes, both in marketing and product strategy, to combat Microsoft.

"They're going to have to change," he said. "I haven't seen any change yet. I would think I'd see promotions on my desk saying, 'Don't go with them. Stay with us.'"

ITonCommand is not going to make its customers switch from Symantec or other vendors to Microsoft Forefront, FrontBridge email security or Internet Security and Acceleration Server. But the company is converting to those products for its hosting business, Smith said.

"We're going to prefer to sell the Microsoft products simply because they will integrate better," he said. "It's really nice that they have it all under one roof."


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