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Channel chief Julie Parrish leaving Symantec

News of Symantec's channel chief's exit surprised partners -- just days before Symantec Partner Engage 2008 kicks off.

Julie Parrish is leaving her post as head of the Symantec partner program.

Parrish, who has been Symantec's global channel vice president for three years, will remain with the company through the end of the month, the company said Friday after confirming her departure. Symantec has not named her successor. Published reports say she has taken a position with NetApp, but NetApp would not confirm those reports today.

The news comes just five days before the start of Partner Engage, Symantec's annual partner conference. Symantec partners said the news was surprising, although rumors about Parrish's departure have been swirling since August -- when Symantec released the conference agenda without Parrish's name on it.

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"I liked Julie very much," said Jonathan Dambrot, managing director for Prevalent Networks, a Symantec partner in Warren, N.J. "I think she was really strong. She's a great executive, and I'm sorry to see her go."

Julie Parrish is a 23-year industry veteran who came to Symantec in 2002. She was also a channel executive with Veritas, Nokia and 3Com, as well as a marketing manager with Unisys and Hewlett-Packard.

Symantec enjoyed a channel-friendly reputation during Parrish's tenure, despite some well-publicized problems. In 2006, after Symantec acquired Veritas, the companies merged channel programs and created a new ERP system for the channel -- a system many partners found to be overly complex.

This summer, there was again uproar among partners after published reports said the company was taking its largest customers direct. Parrish went on a media blitz to explain the situation and address partners' concerns.

"Julie has been a very strong advocate for the channel," Dambrot said.

The good things Symantec did for the channel during Parrish's tenure far outweighed the negatives, said Gary Cannon, president of Advanced Internet Security, a Symantec partner in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"It's been an interesting three years," he said. "There's been a lot of good things. There's been some not-so-positive things. … We see a lot stronger future for us because of what Symantec has done over the past three years."

Julie Parrish's departure will no doubt be all the talk at Partner Engage, which begins Oct. 15 in Washington, D.C. But partners also want to hear from Symantec about its ongoing acquisition spree and what it means for them. Most recently, Symantec acquired messaging and Web security vendor MessageLabs just this week.

"Symantec's already been getting into this market, and it strengthens their position," Dambrot said.

Symantec said the MessageLabs acquisition will boost its Software as a Service (SaaS) platform, the Symantec Protection Network. But the key will be how Symantec integrates the two product and service lines.

"We're still trying to figure out how that plays with their current offerings," Cannon said. "There's a little duplication."

Chief operating officer Enrique Salem -- whose comments to Wall Street analysts sparked this summer's controversy over direct sales to large customers -- will give one of the keynote speeches at Partner Engage. Dambrot said he expects Salem to provide leadership in Parrish's absence.

"He's going to allay a lot of fears that the channel has had," Dambrot said. "He understands the business. He understands the channel. And by giving the keynote, he's saying that he gets it, and he wants to give us the confidence we're looking for."

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