Unified threat management (UTM) may have been the blue-eyed boy of the last decade and not this one, but the technology is still providing a rare pocket of growth for the security channel. Its enduring appeal was underlined earlier this month when Sophos acquired the sector's largest homegrown European player, Astaro. The deal has also been greeted by Astaro's rivals, none more so than France-based Netasq. CRN caught up with chief executive François Lavaste to find out how the acquisition could boost Netasq's UK channel assault.
CRN: First, François, could you summarise Netasq's market presence and focus?
François Lavante: We are one of only two European UTM vendors of a significant size, the other being Astaro. Astaro has a similar story to us but is strong in Germany and the Dach region whereas Netasq is strong in France and southern Europe.
The company was created in 1998, is 100-per-cent channel, has 110 employees and achieved about €20m (£17.5m) in revenue this year. Our appliances start at €700 for SMBs and range up to powerful appliances for larger enterprises costing €25,000.
What marks you out from the more established UTM brands such as Fortinet and Check Point?
Customers appreciate our obsession with security. We have a very effective, proactive IPS engine. We have sold 75,000 appliances to date, none of which has been successfully hacked and we are proud of that. We are one of the only solutions certified by the EU and are part of the NATO catalogue of security solutions.
What sort of presence do you have in the UK?
A third of our revenue is from outside France but we have been building an international presence in Benelux, Italy, Spain and, more recently, the UK and Germany.
In the UK, we are looking to build a distribution network as dense as France, where we have 350 Certified partners. We are far from that now, but we are investing to get there.
How do you view Astaro's acquisition by Sophos?
It is good news for us as a company. First, it validates that the UTM market is an attractive space. Sophos is investing in a company that Gartner has positioned in its visionaries quadrant. We are also in the visionaries quadrant, so it is a proof point which validates our choices and focus on delivering the best security.
Second, I have never known a merger that has not created opportunities for competitors and we intend to take advantage of any channel or branding conflict, especially in the UK. Resellers may carry another anti-virus brand and might not want to help Sophos by selling Astaro. The fact that Sophos is mostly end-point security and Astaro is network security will certainly create channel conflict.
How much resource are you investing in the UK?
We are increasing staff on the ground to work with partners and are increasing the marketing budget to build awareness. For the past few years, UK firms have been receptive to the marketing messages delivered by our competitors and some have over-sold and under-delivered.
At some point it will go back to basics and the focus will be on what the product can do and not marketing fluff. We believe this will give us the edge and that a window of opportunity will be created.
Is the UTM market still expanding in the UK?
We commissioned a study from IDC in April which forecast that the UTM market will continue to grow at more than 20 per cent in the UK for the next four years. It remains an attractive market in terms of its potential.
What is driving that growth?
IT managers have a lot of pressure on them. On the one hand they have budgetary pressures, but at the same time the threat level is going through the roof and there have been a string of highly publicised attacks, from Sony to the CO2 quota trading platform of the European Union. They need to increase the level of security but do not have the budget to do it. UTM is an attractive option because it simplifies IT managers' lives and from a cost perspective it solves the biggest problem they have.
Finally, in the light of Astaro's sale, what are your own exit plans?
That is currently not part of the plan. We still have room to grow and will continue investing in international development, with the UK being one of the key markets. We have another two years of hard work before we think about an initial public offering or exit. We have strong technology that has not been marketed well in countries such as the UK. However, if someone puts a big cheque on the table, maybe our investors would change their minds.
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