"Anecdotal feedback over the last 12 months has made it clear that resellers are finding it more and more difficult to motivate customers to see value in their offering.
Differentiation is becoming increasingly frustrated by what has essentially become a low-margin, ‘box-shifting’ approach to security software in the channel." These sobering words from Richard Hales, F-Secure country manager for UK and Ireland, are compounded by Neil O’Connor, principal consultant at security consultancy Activity who says margins on traditional security products such as anti-virus and firewalls are being pushed lower. "They have become a commodity item which internal IT departments are comfortable managing, so the sales decision has become based solely on price and ease of use."
However, this does not mean there are not plenty of opportunities in the security sphere for resellers. Pat Dunne, senior sales director UK & Ireland with Websense, says there is an upturn in demand for technologies such as data loss prevention suites following the massive debate around data leakage in the media regarding the loss of confidential information: "The good news for resellers is that this is beginning to convert into sales."
Back-up is certainly an area of increasing growth and opportunity for the channel according to Lee Sharrocks, Director for Channel Sales for the Norton range. He says Symantec expects to see the UK market "continue to offer opportunity for resellers to sell consumer security and backup solutions". This buoyancy is being reported by the likes of the Wick Hill Group, which has experienced 35 per cent growth and is predicting per cent compound growth next year in areas such as encryption, mobile and remote security, active web content management and strong authentication.
Trend spotting is always fun, and Stephen Dane, vice-president of EMEA sales at ScanSafe, says the biggest is the growing traction of the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model for security.
"The success of SaaS solutions for vertical deployments like CRM or web conferencing has made businesses realise that the SaaS delivery model makes sense for security" he says, continuing "for channel partners SaaS solutions have great appeal because they are subscription-based and provide a recurring revenue stream," remarks Dane.
The encryption factor
Daniel Mothersdale, vice-president EMEA sales with Webroot, is confident customers are starting to understand there is more to security than just putting arms around the network. "The bigger opportunity lies in encryption and key management. A security partner who understands these and can support the key management story will be in a far stronger position to advance in the security market."
Of course, this does mean that installers of physical security systems that up until recently have not been IT-enabled are struggling to familiarise themselves with a range of fresh IT skills. Integrators from the IT world are starting to take advantage of this skills shortage by getting involved with physical security projects.
John Turner, head of multimedia and networking at Computerlinks, says, "In a recent survey of our reseller partners, 61 per cent said they were looking to move into or were already operating in the converged security market." There can be little doubting that the need to be constantly evolving and innovative is the key for success as far as both vendor and channel are concerned.
There is also a clear requirement — absent only a few years ago — for real diversity in the offering, a need for vendors to offer best of breed technology in a way that enables organisations to fit it into their business, rather than be forced down a deployment route by vendor offering. As Oliver Carter, Director of Channel, Proofpoint reminds us, "this then means the channel gains the opportunity to add value through the ability to build additional professional services thus differentiating themselves and building revenue".
A bright future
Security will continue to be a massive area of opportunity for resellers in 2008 and well beyond. "Increasingly, we see security becoming an integral part of the whole network value proposition. Customers want and expect VARs to provide watertight networks," insists Andrew Shepperd, Director of Azlan. That said, no-one takes security for granted so the added value potential is still very significant.
"Security has become much more accessible and available — leaving aside standard anti-virus protection — it is by no means a commoditised market" Sheppard adds, concluding "we’ve seen strong growth in security over the past year and we fully expect that to continue throughout 2008 and beyond."