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Wed 20 Jan 2010 04:00 AM

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Tower of strength

UTM appliances have become the answer for firms that want their security managed in a simplified way, which in turn is opening up a burgeoning market for the channel.

Tower of strength
Shahnawaz Sheikh, Sonicwall.
Tower of strength
Mahmoud El Ali, 3Com.
Tower of strength
Taj El-Khayat, Juniper.

UTM appliances have become the answer for firms that want their security managed in a simplified way, which in turn is opening up a burgeoning market for the channel.

Unified Threat Management (UTM) has long been hailed as the answer to a security manager's prayer. It promises to bring multiple security measures - firewall, network intrusion prevention, spam and virus protection, content filtering and load balancing - into a single, proactively managed appliance.

Crucially, UTM also offers a streamlined solution to the growing problem of network security compromised by maverick internal internet use and the proliferation of USB stick use - potentially stripping away layers of complexity that have traditionally been a burden for the hard-pressed IT department charged with enabling corporate network security strategies.

Not surprisingly, UTM is one of the fastest growing sectors in the network security market. Its global value scaled US$1 billion in 2007 and research company IDC - which coined the term UTM back in 2004 - expects it to account for almost 34% of the total market by 2012. Vendors have not been slow to spot the opportunity and everyone from Fortinet to Juniper, Cisco, Astaro and Sonicwall is clamouring for a share.

In the Middle East, there is a definite sense of urgency in the market, and vendors appear in no doubt that the channel holds the key to driving successful security project delivery on the back of this rapidly evolving technology - particularly as they leapfrog each other with new features that add to the filtering and blocking capabilities of their UTM platforms, and take advantage of new initiatives like site-to-site tunnelling across the VPN.

Vendors agree that UTM has developed from an initial SMB focus and now have their sights set clearly on larger, distributed and departmental customers. "I believe the purpose of UTM is to primarily offer a comprehensive security solution to the customer's network," says Shahnawaz Sheikh, regional sales manager at Sonicwall.

"The channel should position UTMs on the basis of offering a complete solution at the gateway that covers antivirus, antispyware, intrusion prevention, anti-spam, URL filtering, application firewall filtering and granular reporting. Today, every network size from small SMBs to large enterprises requires a solution like UTM, which simplifies the security management approach and at the same time offers a comprehensive and robust solution to their networks."

Mahmoud El Ali, general manager of 3Com Middle East and North Africa, says the sale of UTMs frequently requires a TCO comparison versus separate solutions, especially since UTM pricing is based on a subscription model for several of the security services.

"Branch office deployments are very popular for UTM appliances because they require security services for a smaller number of distributed employees with fewer administration resources," he says. "The definition of ‘branch office' can also be applied to smaller enterprises, as well as distributed campus environments - universities and higher education - for the same reasons."

As El Ali suggests, the different pricing model - and the innate complexity of the technology itself - places unique demands on resellers, not least in their understanding of the sheer range and potential applications of UTM devices. "They should be well-versed in the entire range of security services, and they must be able to design networks deploying the right number of appliances with the appropriate performance characteristics in line with the customer's needs and growth expectations," he says.This inevitably requires investment in the relevant skills - something that might be a stretch for many resellers in the current economic climate, although the potential for service and subscription revenues on top of the basic margin should help to reassure hesitant players.

"A combination of pre- and post-sales skills are key factors," says Judhi Prasetyo, regional channel manager at Fortinet Middle East. "End-users feel more comfortable dealing with a partner who demonstrates strong knowledge about the products and solutions, along with a high-level of after-sales support. This means they need to invest in the right skills.

"Our channel partners can make additional revenues from installation and after-sales support services. They also get recurring revenue when the end-user renews their FortiGuard and FortiCare subscriptions which keep the UTM systems updated with the latest antivirus and attack signature, antispam and web URL database."

Taj El-Khayat, head of channels for the Middle East, Egypt and Pakistan at Juniper Networks, suggests that by their very nature, UTM appliances generate a host of potential added-value revenue. And they don't simply centre on the network itself; support and trouble-shooting services are also important add-ons for the channel.

Like other vendors, Juniper has invested in a value-based partner programme - J-Partner - designed to help resellers think beyond volume product purchase, taking the long- term view based on growing customer bases and accruing market share.

J-Partner is based on maximising what Juniper calls the "total financial opportunity" (TFO) through investment protection for industry certification, flexible service offering and incremental rewards. 3Com and Fortinet make similar claims for their channel strategies, all focused on training, sales and marketing - and reward.

"During 2009, we worked closely with channel partners and distributors to keep them motivated and enable them to remain profitable during the economic downturn," says El-Khayat. "We have worked with our partners in a transparent manner to ensure that the business is driven equally - especially in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

"In addition, we have worked closely to continue improving the distribution landscape to serve key regions like Pakistan and Egypt at the same level as Saudi Arabia and UAE is served, by introducing the virtual distribution concept. These efforts have helped increase partner recruitment as well as business growth by doubling the number of committed partners and SMB revenue."

Despite this steady progress, all the major UTM vendors are busy recruiting resellers for 2010. 3Com is looking for specialised partners to take its H3C networking and security portfolio to enterprise customers throughout the region. Value and value-add are the watchwords behind this strategy, according to Mahmoud El Ali.

"We have good coverage from our existing channel, and we are in the process of appointing new specialised channel partners for our H3C networking and security solutions," he adds. "These partners will offer the highest levels of service and responsiveness to enterprise customers across the region, as well as networking expertise and innovation."

At Fortinet, Prasetyo says the channel strategy watchwords are quality, coverage - extending the vendor's channel partners to ensure availability to more customers in the Middle East - and profitability."In a market that is as dynamic as the Middle East, we are constantly striving to stay ahead," he says. "While we are pleased with our existing partners, we need to continue to grow in both the quantity and quality of our partners in the region."

Juniper's commercial business in the region has grown on the back of its SSF UTM firewall and ISG 1000 and 2000 platforms, according to El-Khayat.

"We have helped an increasing number of businesses from industries and countries across the Middle East to create a responsive and trusted environment for accelerating the deployment of services and applications over a single network," he says.

At first glance, suggestions for ways in which aspiring UTM resellers can engage more substantially with enterprise and distributed customers in 2010 are predictable enough: specialise, get to know your market and skill-up on both the pre- and post-sales front. But dig a little deeper and vendors have specific advice for partners who want to capitalise on demand for more intuitive and managed security appliances.

"I have three key tips for the UTM channel," says El-Khayat. "They should activate partnerships with ISPs and carriers for resale opportunities to bundle UTM with ISP services. They should integrate with managed service providers (MSPs) to enable UTM as customer premises equipment, enabling the MSP to manage the equipment through a security operations centre. And they should create cost effective, fully integrated services around the UTM box to drive a solution focus rather than just selling the box."

Sheikh at Sonicwall believes it is vital to equip channel partners with a plethora of tools from the outset. "Trained and certified people, plus access to various sales and technical tools offered as part of our partner programme, are needed to sell and support UTMs successfully," he says.

3Com's El Ali says market knowledge will be crucial: understanding and recognising the cost-conscious customer over one who needs edge or branch all-in-one services. Identify physically distributed organisations and you will find a likely UTM customer.

"UTM appliances offer a range of characteristics suitable for various sized deployments and throughput requirements," he comments. "Make sure you understand what the trade-offs are for each, and to propose the most compelling price/performance for the customer's requirements. And know the competition! There are a number of competing solutions in this product category, and there is competition from all the individual point solutions for each of the security services as well."

Finally, advises Prasetyo, keep your ear to the grapevine. "Listen to news from the market and feedback from the customer," he says. "Keep up with the technology trends, compare products and solutions from different vendors. Customers appreciate partners who share information that can help them make future plans and decisions."