Microsoft's entry into enterprise security has market leader Symantec gearing up for a fight -- but not necessarily doing more to attract Microsoft partners.
- By Lee Pender
- September 01, 2007
On the night of April 18, 1775, a cadre of men on horseback -- including,
most famously, Paul Revere -- rode from Boston to Lexington, Mass.,
warning soldiers and citizens alike that the king of England's troops
were headed for the area. Shortly afterward, the Revolutionary War began
Fast forward to the middle of this decade in Cupertino, Calif. While the
medium was probably e-mail rather than a rider on horseback, it's
not hard to speculate that word went around Symantec Corp. headquarters
quickly as soon as the news came out: Microsoft is coming!
However, there's a key difference between Symantec and the Americans
of 1775: Symantec itself is more established empire than colonial upstart.
The Silicon Valley stalwart is the market leader in enterprise endpoint
security -- that is, anti-virus software and client security, as opposed
to the virtual private networks and firewalls of network security. As
such, Symantec has a kingdom of its own, with a wide range of offerings
spanning categories from basic anti-virus to backup and recovery to network
management. Symantec also boasts a robust partner network, and the company
has already made moves -- such as purchasing Altiris Inc. and releasing
new products -- to stave off Microsoft's attack on its market.
In 2006, Microsoft made its first foray into the enterprise security market
with a suite of applications called Forefront (see "Partners in Security,"
November 2006). At that point, Symantec, a long-time collaborator with
Redmond, became an enemy -- or, more precisely, just another partner-slash-competitor
in Microsoft's increasing realm of "coopetition."
Microsoft, of course, has a reputation for moving into new spaces with
its massive Windows installed base and popular integration message, displacing
former market leaders and gobbling up market share. But just as the American
colonists didn't back down in the face of the mighty British Empire
in the 18th century, Symantec isn't shying away from a fight with
Michael Goldstein, chief marketing officer and vice president of business
development at LAN Associates, a Gold Certified Partner and Symantec partner
based in Central Islip, N.Y, compares the relationship to yet another
great historical rivalry: "I don't think you're talking
about David and Goliath here," he says. "You're talking
about England and France."
But in the channel, Symantec's zeal to defend its territory hasn't
necessarily translated into extra incentives or benefits for partners.
Symantec did recently revamp its partner program, but partners who work
with both Symantec and Microsoft haven't seen the security market-leader
reach out to them with anything in particular in response to Microsoft's
popular Security Software Advisor (SSA) program, which provides incentives
and special programs for partners selling Forefront.
Of course, Symantec and Microsoft are far from being the only players
in enterprise security. McAfee Inc., Trend Micro Inc. and CA Inc. are
all major players in the space. But Symantec vs. Microsoft is the market
leader vs. the industry giant, and both companies have the resources and
the stomachs for a long battle in the enterprise security market.
Symantec declined numerous requests to talk to RCP specifically
for this article, but RCP has been able to question Symantec officials
about competition with Microsoft on other occasions over the past six
months. Some of those responses are included in this story. RCP
also had the opportunity, in a joint interview with Redmond magazine,
to speak to Symantec Chairman and CEO John Thompson about his company's
relationship with Microsoft.
in the Rearview for Symantec CEO
Thompson, chairman and CEO of Symantec Corp., has
a simple message for his company's partners: Stick with
the market leader, and stay away from Forefront.
In a joint interview with Redmond
magazine, RCP asked Thompson what his message
is to partners who might be feeling pressure from Microsoft
to push Forefront over Symantec's products. His response:
"Why would you ever take the fifth- or sixth-place product
and put your relationship with your customers at risk?
That's like saying, 'Why don't you buy the cheapest
lock for your house?'"
Thompson acknowledges Microsoft CEO Steve
Ballmer's ability to hype his company's products and
woo the channel, calling Ballmer "a great rallyer of
Microsoft in front of any audience." Last year, at Microsoft's
Worldwide Partner Conference in Boston, Ballmer strongly
encouraged his company's partners to join with Redmond
in conquering new markets -- including security. "Will
you choose to work with us or your traditional partners?"
Ballmer demanded at the time, not specifically naming
Symantec but leaving little to the imagination.
Thompson, however, says that Symantec
partners -- who are, in many cases, also Microsoft partners
-- should be wary of Microsoft's security offerings.
"When the hype settles down, people have to settle into
the pragmatic reality, which is that [Microsoft's] product
He's not counting on that always being
the case, though. He says that Symantec will continue
to lead the security market through a commitment to
research and development and by providing superior technology.
"We have to continue to innovate," Thompson
says. "Sitting back and assuming that Microsoft's product
is going to stink forever would be a bad, bad idea."
For years, Symantec -- itself a Gold Certified Partner -- was among
the companies that helped Microsoft Windows work. Its security software
prevented viruses and malware from wrecking the often attack-prone operating
system. As such, Symantec and Microsoft maintained a fairly close relationship,
with the security vendor sharing information about threats with its larger
counterpart and working with Microsoft to develop for Windows.
That relationships still exists, and, in fact, officials from both companies
like to talk up their collaborative efforts. Microsoft officials say that
this year's release of the Windows Vista operating system has strengthened
Redmond's relationship with its California counterpart.
"If anything, the relationship has become closer than ever with the
development and deployment of Vista," says Margaret Dawson, Microsoft's
group product manager for security and access products.
Symantec officials echo that sentiment. "We have a good working relationship
with Microsoft. We compete with them, but we also are one of the largest
software vendors on the Windows platform," says Oliver Friedrichs,
director of Symantec Security Response, whose team regularly shares information
on potential security threats with Microsoft. "In many cases, our
concerns are ones that Microsoft wants to address in future versions.
They're open to suggestions and are certainly not defensive."
But despite talk of collaboration, controversy erupted between the two
competitors last year when Symantec, along with McAfee, complained that
Microsoft wasn't opening the 64-bit Vista kernel to security vendors
for development. After a protracted war of words in the press, Microsoft
ultimately promised a set of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs)
that would let security vendors access the kernel. Those APIs are due
with the first service pack for Vista, the release date of which was still
pending at press time.
Officials from both companies say that they've moved on from the
kernel issue -- although Friedrichs notes that Symantec is still waiting
for the SP1 APIs -- but analyst Neil MacDonald, of Stamford, Conn.-based
research firm Gartner Inc., doubts whether the two companies are all that
friendly these days.
"The relationship is still chilly because Microsoft threatens Symantec's
business," MacDonald says.
For his part, while he says that his company "got what we wanted"
out of the 64-bit kernel affair, Symantec Chairman and CEO John Thompson
says that he won't back down from calling out Microsoft again if
he feels as though his company's rival from Redmond is trying to
use its Windows monopoly to affect competition in the security market.
"I want every employee and every channel partner that's associated
with our company to know that we stand for something," Thompson told
Redmond magazine Editor Ed Scannell in an exclusive interview with editors
from Redmond and RCP. "We stand for innovation and we're not
going to be constrained by a monopolist. We're not going to let Microsoft
do something that's illegal. If that means calling Microsoft to task
on bad behavior, we're more than willing to do that."
Parry and Riposte
Two of those fronts include comprehensive anti-virus packages and
systems management. Microsoft, with Windows Live OneCare, and Symantec,
with Norton 360, both released comprehensive client-security offerings
in 2006 that included anti-virus, anti-spyware and anti-phishing technologies
as well as backup and restore capabilities.
Perhaps more intriguing for enterprise partners, though, is the battle
emerging for the systems-management side of the security market. Microsoft,
as it so often does, is pitching product and platform integration as a
major selling point for Forefront, which includes a client-security offering
and components for Exchange Server, SharePoint Server and Office Communications
Server, as well as Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2006,
a gateway server designed to protect against Internet-based threats. Partners
can sell each of the components separately or sell them together as a
On top of all that, Forefront customers can install a Microsoft Operations
Manager (MOM) 2005 management pack that lets administrators monitor Forefront
clients -- a key feature that no other vendor offers, says Andy Papadopoulos,
president of LegendCorp, a Toronto-based Gold Certified Partner and Symantec
partner. For instance, he says, the MOM pack functionality lets an administrator
know if a user has turned off anti-virus protection.
"Being able to have that visibility is a really powerful feature,"
Papadopoulos says. "Anybody who's invested in MOM gets it right
away. The people with MOM are already in position to see the value with
Symantec, though, has not stood pat in the face of Microsoft's systems-management
functionality. In January, the company announced that it would spend $830
million to buy Altiris Inc., a Lindon, Utah-based vendor of service-oriented
management software. MacDonald sees the move as a clear indication of
Symantec's willingness to compete with its new rival.
"As Microsoft started launching Forefront and emphasizing the longer-term
integration with Systems Center, who did Symantec go out and acquire?
Altiris, No. 2 in systems management," MacDonald notes.
Goldstein says that Symantec has some "phenomenal" products
on the way, including Symantec Endpoint Protection 11.0, due in September,
which will offer anti-virus functionality combined with threat prevention
for laptops, desktops and servers. But he notes that Microsoft's
pitch remains strong, especially because Redmond has simplified licensing
for Forefront as part of a larger Microsoft technology stack.
"As we're converting any of our clients to Microsoft renewals,
we sell them an open license -- one number for all the products,"
Goldstein says. "Forefront slips into this and ties into the rest
of the Microsoft licensing. The billing aspect and the licensing aspect
work well for Forefront."
And Papadopoulos notes that the classic all-in-one technology integration
message works for Forefront, too: "Anti-virus is subscription-based -- the
money's already there," he says. "Every two years, during
renewal, people start thinking maybe this Microsoft thing is a good deal:
'The fewer vendors I have running on my machine, the easier it'll
be to maintain and manage.' The customers are asking for this: 'Simplify
my environment, simplify my life.'"
A Happy Giant
Microsoft has reached out to partners not just with its integration
message but also with the SSA program, which company officials say provides
incentives such as the opportunity to earn up to 30 percent of revenues
from Forefront sales along with supplemental revenues. Microsoft officials
say that they've welcomed about 4,000 partners to the program since its
debut at the company's Worldwide Partner Conference in Boston in July
2006. And about 1,000 of those partners, officials say, are new to the
Microsoft Partner Program.
Symantec, in this case, hasn't responded directly to Microsoft's
challenge. The company revamped its partner program earlier this year,
but it isn't necessarily out to siphon off Microsoft partners, says
Julie Parrish, VP of the Global Channel Office at Symantec.
"We're not responding to anything," Parrish says of Symantec's
program upgrade. "There's already a tremendous amount of overlap
between the Symantec and Microsoft partner communities. There has been
for years, and I'm sure there always will be.
no, we're not looking to go out and aggressively recruit Microsoft
For their part, partners who work with both Microsoft and Symantec say
that the latter could stand to be more aggressive, period. "Symantec's
been a good partner, but we process so many orders and get no recognition
for it," says Kevin Fream, president of Matrixforce Corp., a Tulsa-based
Gold Certified Partner and Symantec partner. "We have 300 clients,
and all of them are Symantec. We've never gotten a call from Symantec,
nothing more than an e-mail. You never get a lead from Symantec, either."
Parrish says that Symantec can compete with Microsoft based on technology
in the marketplace and not necessarily on partner incentives. Goldstein
recognizes that approach, noting that Symantec, already the market leader,
has focused more on bulking up its technology than on working more closely
"They're a happy giant," Goldstein says.
A Long Way to Ride
Just how long the security giant will stay happy remains to be seen,
and MacDonald notes that neither company should be completely satisfied
with its offerings. Microsoft, for instance, he says, doesn't really have
the systems-management capabilities tied with Forefront that it claims
"Forefront is still a separate product," he says. "You
can't just have a single console. What Microsoft talks about sounds
good, but in reality they haven't shipped that. The positioning is
really just that -- positioning."
Beyond that, he says, customers aren't yet looking for what Microsoft -- and
Symantec, with the Altiris acquisition -- claim to offer: "For
now, people tend to have security products and they tend to look for platforms.
The demand for integrated security and management platforms isn't
really there yet."
And Goldstein notes that there isn't much of a reason for clients
to switch security providers unless they're undergoing an infrastructure
upgrade -- in which case they can still employ a Microsoft-Symantec
hybrid approach. Papadopoulos agrees, noting that partners will do the
right thing for customers regardless of Microsoft partner incentives:
"I don't think anyone is going jam Forefront down someone's
Still, the message has changed at Symantec headquarters. It's no longer:
"Microsoft is coming." Now, very clearly, the cry is: "Microsoft is here."