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Symantec channel conflict brings opportunity for competitors

Bad news for Symantec could be good news for other security vendors and their partner programs.

The recent Symantec channel conflict has some competing security vendors seeing opportunities to boost their own partner programs.

When reports of Symantec channel conflict -- specifically the company's direct sales strategy for its largest customers -- surfaced earlier this month, several competitors seized the opportunity to tout their own partner-friendliness. One vendor, Burlington, Mass.-based Astaro Internet Security, even started a promotion to recruit solution providers that felt spurned by Symantec. The Astaro "Symantec Switch" offer gives Symantec partners an extra 20% discount on Astaro products and also provides support to help those partners migrate their Symantec customers to the Astaro platform.

"It's a program that was designed to ensure that the Symantec partners knew they could count on us," said David Rogers, Astaro's sales director.

Symantec COO Enrique Salem told Wall Street analysts last month

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that Symantec is giving its 700 to 900 largest customers the chance to bypass partners and buy direct. Symantec downplayed his statements, saying those customers have always had that choice, and that most other customers will have to apply for exemptions to bypass the channel. But the news still left a bad taste in many Symantec partners' mouths.

Kaspersky Lab is another vendor looking to capitalize on the Symantec channel conflict controversy and provide an alternative to those partners.

"It has created a little bit of an opportunity for us, because they're thinking twice about who they're doing business with," said John Eddy, a senior vice president at Kaspersky. "It just represents a chance for us to tell our story."

Kaspersky is not specifically reaching out to Symantec partners, just letting them know that there are other options for security vendors. Eddy said all of Kaspersky's sales to business customers, except those on the "very low end," go through the channel.

"Your perspective as a partner is always, 'I'm doing a service for the vendor,'" he said. "And a partner wants a degree of commitment from their vendor that they're going to be supported, treated fairly and so on. … Partners are always skeptical of vendors. The landscape is littered with partners who have been burned by vendors. Those vendors that succeed in the channel have to be true to their word."

Sophos is taking a similar strategy of using the Symantec channel conflict news to increase its own profile among partners.

"Symantec has traditionally had a sterling reputation in the channel and recently lost some ground," said Chris Doggett, Sophos' director of North American channel sales. "That generally presents a good opportunity for companies like Sophos to talk about what we have to offer."

The company is not offering any special deals, however.

"The incentives we have in place, combined with the uncertainty [about Symantec], are their own promotion," Doggett said.

In the wake of the Symantec news, Sophos is also talking up a recent 120,000-seat endpoint security contract it landed at defense contractor Northrop Grumman. The sale went through Sophos partner Software House International.

"If we take the stance that Symantec appears to have taken, that probably wouldn't have been a channel deal," Doggett said.

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