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."

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.