Secure Computing partners warily await McAfee partner program changes

As fears of channel conflict rise, McAfee starts to bring Secure Computing resellers into its partner program.

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Amidst fears that Secure Computing partners will have to start from scratch in the McAfee partner program, McAfee is finally laying out its plans for combining the two vendors' channels.

Since the $465 million McAfee-Secure Computing acquisition closed in November, Secure Computing partners have grown increasingly restless and nervous.

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The issue is that McAfee is much larger and fields many more partners than Secure Computing, which was known as a boutique provider of firewalls and other highly regarded security products. To many Secure Computing partners, McAfee is a giant vendor -- and one not particularly noted for cordial channel relationships.
The math shows why there is so much concern.

According to McAfee's own numbers, the McAfee partner program has 15,000 members worldwide, split between Elite, Premier and Associate designations. Secure Computing has about 3,000 Platinum, Gold and Silver partners. The more partners, the more competition between partners and the more stress on margins. Secure Computing partners said they made good margins and loved working with a relatively small, focused vendor.

"We are absolutely concerned," said Michelle Drolet, CEO of Towerwall, a Framingham, Mass.-based Secure Computing partner. "We've chosen as an organization not to work with the Symantecs or the McAfees of the world."

Towerwall instead, sells products from Secure Computing and Trend Micro, which Drolet considers best of breed suppliers.

"We needed just two certified engineers and two to three salespeople … but we sold a lot of products like SmartFilter and WebWasher," Drolet said, citing two popular Secure Computing products.

One Secure Computing VAR in the Midwest is extremely anxious.

"The rumor on the street is that McAfee will take a scorched earth policy and scrub the [Secure Computing] Silver partner level and make them start qualifying all over [for the McAfee partner program.]," he said.

This VAR, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he was told by McAfee that his company would need to train and field 15 sales people and four certified technicians to retain its current partner designation. His company's headcount wouldn't even cover that number.

"That's absurd," he said. "Those requirements exclude everyone except the biggest consulting firms."

The McAfee partner website says Premier partners in the security and secure content management area must have 15 people selling McAfee products.

Pedro Abreu, vice president of McAfee's partner program, dismissed the notion that the company is upping the requirements for Secure Computing VARs. McAfee's certification requirements for each tier will be roughly equivalent to Secure Computing's, although Secure Computing partners will have to apply, he said.

"Secure partners in good standing will go to the analogous level within the McAfee program, so Platinums will map to Elite, Gold to Premier, etc.," he said.

Still, there are complexities.

"When you join McAfee as an Elite, that doesn't mean that your authorization will be to all McAfee products," Abreu said. "But we'll make it easier for you to get started on those products."

He acknowledged that the company could have done a better job communicating changes earlier but said it is kicking off its partner outreach now. He was also surprised to hear that Secure Computing partners were nervous.

"The feedback we've had is sometimes the opposite," he said. "[It's more about] McAfee partners worried about having to meet Secure Computing standards."

Jim Beaupre, CEO of FedResults, a Herndon, Va.-based McAfee VAR, backed up that assertion. He said he is irritated because he cannot yet sell Secure Computing and would like to do so.

The first phase of the convergence plan, now ending, was to keep the Secure Computing channel intact. Now the second phase is all about rebranding the Secure Computing products and getting those partners onto McAfee's internal systems. That should take until the end of the year, Abreu said.

"Operationally we want to get their distributors using our systems for [market development funds], rebates, our central database," he said. "We want them integrated into our go-to-market plans. We all need to be on the same systems."

McAfee is also bringing Secure Computing partners under the overall McAfee Security Alliance program, where they will be showcased on the McAfee site.

Most McAfee products sell through broadline distributors, but Secure Computing products will continue to sell through closed distribution, through existing authorized distributors, Abreu also said. Ingram Micro and Tech Data will continue to distribute McAfee's broad product line but will respect that some products are now closed at the reseller level, he said.

The bottom line vis-à-vis the Secure Computing partners is, "We want them to stay," he added. "We're extending our product lines through acquisition, and their channel is a big asset to us."

McAfee has scheduled an all-hands meeting April 15 to go over changes with Secure Computing partners, sources said.

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