There is no shortage of dealers punting security technology over the internet in the US, but the model has failed to catch on among more cautious UK firms who continue to value the human touch.
However, some channel pundits believe that is all set to change in 2009, as end users gravitate towards suppliers able to offer low prices and quick, convenient service.
ITsecurityWarehouse.com has claimed it is the first UK security dealer to operate a strict online-only model and the firm has already been hailed as a potential success story by some of its vendor partners.
It was launched this month by former Breach Security employee Adrian Jones. The SME-focused outfit has four other full-time employees, including former Fresh Egg and VCW sales director Toby Caton.
“We are a small team, but have big plans and big technology behind us,” said Jones.
High hopes for low overheads
He added that the security market’s advancing maturity means some SMEs no longer require the consultative approach of traditional bricks ’n’ mortar resellers. And against today’s economic backdrop end users will increasingly favour suppliers operating with low overheads.
“People buy cars, holidays and golf clubs online, why not unified threat management?” asked Jones.
Websense is one of six key vendors for ITsecurityWarehouse alongside F5, Fortinet, Breach Security, Kaspersky and Karalon.
Websense’s director for the UK and Ireland, Pat Dunne, agrees that the newborn firm may have found a niche in the market. “I do not know of any other resellers doing Websense purely on the web,” he said.
“Customers are going to like the ease of use and convenience of it. It is a much more commonplace model in the US and although people in the UK like the face-to-face touch, that is slowly changing.”
However, ITsecurityWarehouse’s emergence has led others to question the wisdom of operating a web-only model in what is still a complex and rapidly evolving security world.
According to a recent UK poll by distributor Wick Hill, web purchasing was the least important of 14 decision-making issues for IT managers when purchasing IT security. Just 15 per cent of the respondents listed it as a priority, compared with 90 per cent citing ease of use, 90 per cent citing performance and 74 per cent citing reseller knowledge.
Ability to upgrade, relationship with supplier and return on investment were among other factors considered to be more pressing.
Wick Hill chairman Ian Kilpatrick was sceptical that a web-only model would thrive in the security channel to the same extent as it has in more commoditised markets, such as storage.
“People often talk about security becoming a commoditised product, but the results here indicate this is not the case,” he said. “Companies are typically looking for some degree of consultancy sale.”
And ITsecurityWarehouse’s market entrance was greeted with some bemusement from the larger security players.
David Hobson, managing director of security integrator GSS, said that the company would struggle to compete in both the volume and value markets.
No added value
“We are looking to add value and it sounds like these guys are just going for the cost-plus model. The end users that want this can get it already from a Dabs or a Microwarehouse.
“With Web 2.0 issues and new malware coming through, people need advice and help. Is a web site the way to go I would say no.”
Ash Patel, UK country manager at security vendor Stonesoft, agreed: “For F5 you are not talking about an off-the-shelf technology and it needs to be sold with a consultative approach behind it,” he cautioned.
But Jones stressed that ITsecurityWarehouse had taken steps to ensure it does not repeat the mistakes of other security dealers that have tried and failed to make a splash online.
He said that he had invested substantial time and effort into certifying with its vendor partners. The startup has also spent months developing an e-commerce engine designed to handle multiple vendors’ pricing matrixes.
In terms of installation and support packages, ITsecurityWarehouse will draw on the expertise of its vendor partners, as well as distributors and resellers, said Jones.
“Other bricks ’n’ mortar resellers have tried to do this by just shoving products up on the web site and it has not worked. You have to do it in partnership with vendors and have some empathy with the channels around you,” he said.
He added that the reseller was aware of its limitations and would focus on supplying micro SMEs.
Websense’s Dunne said: “ITsecurityWarehouse has put in the effort to ensure vendors understand what it is doing and I am very impressed by that.”
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