Security Software: How Suite It Is
The writing's on the wall, it seems, for purveyors of security point solutions.
Gone is the day of the best-of-breed anti-virus, firewall, e-mail security or
encryption vendors. These days, it's a security suite play.
Late last month, Sophos Plc. -- a vendor that first cut its teeth (and made
its name) as a purveyor of anti-virus software -- spent almost $340 million
for Ultimaco Safeware, a specialty provider of endpoint protection technology.
Analysts say the move is consistent with Sophos' strategy of diversification
-- namely, away from its anti-virus roots and toward security suite-dom -- and
of a piece with a general industry trend.
The important point, according to industry watchers, is that customers want
integrated and highly manageable security tools. A smorgasbord of best-of-breed
tools is no longer enough.
It's been a long time since Sophos was just an anti-virus vendor. Today, it
markets anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-spam and Network Access Control (NAC)
offerings for a variety of devices. Prior to the acquisition of Ultimaco Safeware,
however, Sophos didn't have a completely coherent endpoint security strategy.
Ultimaco Safeware gives it that, just as past acquisitions -- including ActiveState
and Endforce -- gave Sophos credible e-mail security and NAC technologies, too.
More importantly, it helps Sophos keep up with other security suite players.
"This is an industry-wide trend, with enterprises trying to rationalize
the endpoint security products and management consoles they use and endpoint
security providers offering more than AV capabilities to remain competitive,"
wrote Gartner analysts John Girard, Arabella Hallawell and Eric Ouellett in
a recent research bulletin.
Once Sophos successfully integrates the Ultimaco Safeware assets, it will be
able to tout a coherent, credible suite offering of its own. That could invite
other challenges, however. "[Sophos] will...own a suite of technologies
that addresses broad end-user data protection needs," the Gartner trio
wrote. "Sophos will have to work hard to ensure that this premium-priced
deal pays off in the long term. The mobile data protection market is growing
fast compared with traditional end point security, and with higher price points.
But mobile data protection's higher price points will likely decrease substantially
as encryption functions are bundled into endpoint suite licenses."
There's a sense in which Sophos' move will also compel its competitors to sit
up and take notice. At least one of Sophos' competitors -- Trend Micro -- has
an existing relationship with Ultimaco Safeware. "Moreover, AV providers
including Symantec and Trend Micro will likely accelerate their encryption end
point strategies, partly due to pressure from this acquisition," the analysts
wrote. "The Sophos acquisition will likely eventually terminate Ultimaco's
relationship with Trend Micro, under which the two companies have used each
other's data loss prevention...and encryption technologies."
There's also the question of integration: Like many of its competitors, Sophos
has cobbled together its security suite by dint of acquisition. A flesh-out-by-acquisition
strategy places a premium on integration, and it may be difficult to integrate
and and reconcile three separate technology pedigrees (ActiveState, Endforce
and now Ultimaco Safeware).
"Despite the ongoing convergence in these markets, enterprise IT buyers
should not expect a rapid integration of newly acquired products into mature
product releases," the Gartner trio wrote. "Providers have generally
been slow to integrate new technologies so that they can be actively managed
by AV/endpoint security consoles."
Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.