With vendors broadening product portfolios and end users looking to consolidate supply chains, the onus is on networking VARs to beef up their security expertise.
A raft of vendors from the security and networking worlds have branched out recently. Communications vendor Alcatel-Lucent launched a dedicated security practice in the UK last May, the same month networking vendor Zyxel launched its first security offering into the channel.
Cisco’s security line-up of firewalls and virtual private networks was bolstered by its acquisition of security appliance vendor Ironport in 2007. Juniper Networks is another vendor to straddle both worlds and it launched into the high-end switching market last year.
Juniper’s head of UK and Ireland channels, Jonathan Hallatt said that security VARs face a slightly easier journey than networking counterparts when looking to branch out.
Supply chain squeeze
“We are seeing security VARs wanting to move into switching,” he said. “We also see traditional networking infrastructure partners looking to move into security.”
Dave Ellis, e-security director for distributor Computerlinks, said security VARs have the marginally easier transition. “If you are just selling low-end switches and not adding much value, it would be a steeper learning curve,” he said.
“But the core skills required for both markets are very similar and highly transferable.”
Another driver pushing traditional networking resellers towards the security space is end users’ buying patterns. The economic climate has driven many firms, especially in the SME space, to consolidate the number of suppliers with which they work.
“In this climate people want to sell more into their customer base,” said Ellis. “The more companies an end user deals with, the more expensive it is to manage. End users will look to collapse their supply chain and it makes sense for them to work with partners that can supply different types of technology.”
However, Scott Nursten, managing director of Crawley-based Cisco Gold partner s2s, said many firms outside of retail and the public sector do not give sufficient consideration to their network’s security.
“With the average business in hospitality or manufacturing, I am not seeing that much demand for network security in terms of invitations to tender,” he said. “But when we position it in our pitches it becomes a differentiator.”
Practise what you preach
Ellis added that networking vendors’ increased awareness of the importance of security would be another factor encouraging resellers to widen their skill sets. “There is a fair amount of convergence taking place from a technology perspective and many switches will have some firewall capability,” he said.
“That trend will continue. Networking partners will have to get up to speed on selling security because the vendors with which they traditionally work will embed that technology.”
Juniper’s Hallatt said a broader portfolio could be a differentiator for vendors courting the channel in today’s climate. “We are seeing in partners a consolidation of the number of vendors they support,” he said.
Nursten added that many VARs are looking to streamline their vendor relationships. “For resellers, there is a strong move, especially in this economic climate, to establish economies of scale,” he said.
“For people looking to get into both networking and security, there is definitely a view in the market that people want to stick with one vendor, end to end. Often, that is Cisco.”
The Network Security Appliances and Software report released earlier this month by Infonetics, put Cisco firmly at the top of the network security pile. The networking titan accounted for two-fifths of the $5.5bn (£3.9bn) market last year, with Juniper and Check Point taking second and third spots.
Revenue for the whole market was up eight per cent on 2007, fuelled in part by strong performances from vendors Citrix, Enterasys, Sourcefire and McAfee.
Revenue was growing in 2008’s closing quarter, rising three per cent, and single-digit annual growth is expected for several years.
Jess Thompson-Hughes, managing director of wireless specialist React Technologies, said concerns about a network’s security had become a key driver for users. “Everything these days has to be secure,” he said.
“For every vendor that makes anything to do with an IP infrastructure at any level, the resellers that sell that technology for a living have to understand the security applications.”
Thompson-Hughes added that security expertise should be seen as a prerequisite for skills in all other technological areas.
Nursten also voiced this view, citing the Cisco channel programme, where Gold partners have to achieve specialisations in routing and switching, unified communications (UC), wireless LAN (WLAN) and security.
“Security is a foundation of the others, a horizontal bar that spans routing, switching, UC and WLAN,” he said. “Security should be inherent and needs to be across the network.”
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