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IBM security play, services focus could bring channel competition

IBM's focus on services and a new $1.5 billion security investment could take business away from competing vendors' value-added resellers and systems integrators.

IBM security efforts are getting a $1.5 billion boost, and the company's heavy focus on services could create competition for security solutions providers, according to experts.

IBM announced last week its plan to invest $1.5 billion in security research and possibly make more acquisitions. Other vendors without major security offerings have made strides into the market recently, but this IBM security play is more dramatic, according to Chenxi Wang, a principal analyst for Forrester Research who was briefed on the news by IBM. IBM is not just moving to secure its own applications -- Wang expects the company to develop a full network security platform.

"IBM is seeing the growth of the market and wants to get in on the action," she said.

IBM was not available for comment.

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IBM's success as a services-focused vendor -- its Global Services division brought in $48.2 billion of the company's $91.4 billion in revenue last year -- should be the most concerning part of this news for value-added resellers (VARs), systems integrators (SIs) and other solution providers who partner with competing security vendors.

"For those who have built their own services, it could pose a threat," said Paul Myerson, a senior channel analyst for Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass.

"Large systems integrators should really pay more attention to what IBM is doing," Wang said. "It can take away a lot of business."

IBM acquired Internet Security Systems last year and has since taken advantage of its services offerings, but not its network scanning products, Wang said. Those products, combined with the application scanning and authentication software acquired from Watchfire and Tivoli, respectively, will provide the basis for IBM's network security platform, Wang said.

"The three different pieces are largely separate in IBM right now," she added.

Enterprise Strategy Group's research has shown that businesses and organizations prefer to deal with security across the enterprise, not on an application-by-application basis. IBM's security approach will make a more appealing option for customers, which could create more business for IBM partners, Myerson said. The key will be for IBM to spell out its security channel strategy, to let partners know one way or the other where they stand.

"I can understand where channel folks may be a little nervous," Myerson said. "I haven't seen anything from IBM that's shown with clarity how they're going to work with the channel."

IBM's security push will help by drawing attention to the market as a whole, said Bill Gardner, director of competitive marketing for McAfee. But he said there is no threat from IBM because "for security products to be done really well, it needs to be the focus, not an afterthought."

"Historically, IBM hasn't been perceived by most customers in the market as being a leader in security," Gardner added.

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