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SonicWALL pushes unified threat management into the enterprise

Multi-core processing gives small companies the speed they need to take unified threat management to the enterprise, but that's only half the battle.

Network security company SonicWALL Inc. is inching its way into the enterprise with its E-Class series of unified threat management (UTM) appliances.

The company is working with its top channel partners to expand their focus from the small and medium-sized business (SMB) market to bigger companies, and it will slowly recruit new partners in the process, SonicWALL executives said.

The unified threat management approach, which combines firewall, antivirus tools, email/content security and intrusion detection, has threatened to take off for years. But now a number of players have upped the ante with improved UTM products and a channel push into the enterprise.

With SonicWALL's entrance, partners will find themselves facing off against Fortinet, which announced a UTM global partner program focusing on enterprises in August, as well as Cisco Systems and Trend Micro, all considered market leaders.

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Partners already involved in SonicWALL's enterprise push say it hasn't been easy, but it has been worth it.

"It's taken a little while to plant the seeds and get people interested," said Todd Barrett, director of sales for the security and networking division of CPU Sales & Service Inc., a SonicWALL partner in Waltham, Mass. "We've done a lot of [technology] comparisons. We know that the product works, so we're kind of doing a dance right now." Barrett said CPU has been working with the company's enterprise appliances since late December and has sealed quite a few major deals.

SonicWALL made its name selling security solutions to SMBs, but its acquisition less than a year ago of SSL VPN vendor Aventail, which focused on larger companies, gave it technology to battle in the enterprise with higher speeds and capacity.

Until recently, unified threat management appliances slowed down connection speeds and software applications, but multi-core processors have changed that. SonicWALL's E-Class Network Security Appliance (NSA) E7500 has a multi-core platform enabling firewall security and policy management, as well as antivirus, antispyware and content filtering. The box offers 1.3 Gbps of UTM performance and has eight firewall ports -- four that are copper Gigabit Ethernet and four that are small form-factor pluggable (SFP) gigabit interfaces, enabling connection to fibre.

SonicWALL has always touted simplicity in management as a selling point for SMBs and is now selling the same point in larger environments. The NSA E7500 has a Web interface for administrators, meant to make the appliance easier to install and manage.

"We're using everything we learned in the SMB market -- less cost to deploy and less cost to manage," said Marvin Blough, vice president of worldwide channel sales at SonicWALL. "I think that's the place we find ourselves competing with a Cisco or Juniper. Those are complicated products -- we don't need specialists on board to deal with our products."

Independent product trials have shown the NSA E7500 to be comparable to -- or even better than -- competitive products. Though some say more complicated offerings enable more diverse services and configuration, that criticism doesn't faze SonicWALL partners.

"Cisco might have some flashy granularity, but you need a full-time dedicated employee to manage all that technology," Barrett said, adding that he'd rather have somewhat fewer capabilities for a cheaper and easier-to-use solution.

Product comparisons aside, the challenge may boil down to how well partners will fare in the enterprise market against companies with heavy brand-name recognition and strong partner programs.

"In the SMB market, it's not difficult to sell against Cisco -- quite the contrary. In the SMB market you have to make every dollar count," said James Carter, chief technology officer of The Integration Works LLC in Santa Ana, Calif., adding that SonicWALL's product is both cheaper to buy and requires little management manpower.

"In contrast, no one ever got fired for buying IBM in the enterprise -- they don't get in trouble for going with market leaders. SonicWALL is going to break down that perception by proving it with try-and-buys," Carter said.

As for the partnering experience, Carter and Barrett both see the advantage of working with a smaller company.

"I can make a big difference to them in relation to my size. If I can make a difference for SonicWALL, they are going to be more interested in helping me," Carter said.

Barrett, a self-proclaimed "big fish in a small pond," added that only large value-added resellers (VARs) make money with companies like Cisco. "You have to live on services there or you're not going to survive. Most of those people don't make a lot of money on hardware."

For its part, SonicWALL will take the enterprise push slowly and steadily and will not lose focus on the SMB market. "You'll see us continue to add products and other offerings in the SMB space," Blough said. As for the enterprise push, Blough said the company will work with its top 200 partners (out of the existing 6,000) to expand upward. "If I recruited 100 more partners this year that really have the capability and customer set, I would consider that a success," he added.

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