Page 2 of 3
Palo Alto has kept its R&D engine humming, no doubt. The most recent addition to its product lineup is WildFire, an anti-malware product for on-premises firewalls that addresses new and unknown files in a virtual sandbox and then troubleshoots -- by creating unique, distributable signatures to protect rest of the the network -- if those files are determined to be bad. Based on a company's policy, WildFire grabs new and unknown .EXE and .DLL files and judges them against some 70 behavioral profiles to figure out whether they're malware.
One of the company's big strengths, say partners, is designing marketing programs around its technology story -- avoiding the pitfall of engineering-first companies that don't quite know how to spread the word about their creations in a way that makes sense to non-techies.
Palo Alto, for example, recently launched its Marketing Council, which focuses on how to help partners tell the Palo Alto story in the context of other, more established network security players as well as rewards them with market development funds (MDF) and other incentives.
"They're ahead of the ball on that one," said Nexum's Lesser. "We're seeing how much innovation is going into their product line, so the challenge is making sure all of that knowledge gets transferred to the channel so we can tell the story, get it working right with customers and get them to understand as many of the exciting features as possible."
Trace3's Groom said his VAR has seen big wins -- "heart transplants in major financial organizations," as he described them -- behind Palo Alto, and said the company has done much to excite partners to go after bigger customers. He pointed to the Dell reseller decision as the type of critical call that, for most vendors on the up-and-up, would have gone the other way.
"Those make a big difference," he said. "We have to manage risk associated with the acquisitions of our partners all the time. The key as they get bigger will be hold on to the things that made the company new and different and made is such a pleasure to go to market with."
Tom Gobeille, president and CEO of Network Computing Architects, a Bellevue, Wash.-based solution provider, said that he, like many partners and customers, had to be sold on Palo Alto at first.
"I was made aware of them through a business friend of mine and I remember thinking, thanks, but I need another firewall vendor like I need a hole in the head," he said. "I then had to sell the concept to my security teams, because their response was the same: it's a crowded space, and we already had an information security posture and practice. So it took patience and education, but what happened -- and why they're so successful -- is that the more people learned about it, the more passionate and excited they got about it, and next thing you know we're sharing that with customers."
Gobeille agreed that Palo Alto's success has been in part about technology but also about a good story being told at the right time.
"You're not selling your customers on firewalls so much as you're helping protect them in the tech world with this mutation around mobility and social networking," he said. "The interesting thing about Palo Alto is that it almost goes beyond a firewall. You can tell the Palo Alto story about four or five different ways. The risk is at Layer 7 -- you really need to be afraid of where the threats are coming from in these handhelds and devices. Palo Alto has a solid story around that."
Mike Porter, vice president of business development at SOS Security, a Houston-based solution provider, said Palo Alto has one of the strongest stories of any vendor behind the concept of unified threat management, and being able to pack several security capabilities into a single device, with a range of flexible options for customers.
His company's Palo Alto Networks business has grown "exponentially," Porter said.
"It all depends on how you slice it. If you talk to an IPS vendor, for example, Palo Alto may seem like a competitor, but they're not really a direct competitor because it's not an apples-to-apples comparison," he said. "Some of the IPS solutions are more granular, because of how advanced malware is, you still have to augment that with more advanced IPS and URL filtering with other products. So why do you want best of breed -- why pay for best of breed -- when you can get 80 to 90 percent of what you do need from Palo Alto?"
"We knew it was a good product," added NCI's Timmins, who first looked at Palo Alto two and a half years ago and added them shortly after. "When customers get the understanding that it actually meets the performance demands, and that they get the three or four components Palo Alto has in a box, plus the energy and a lot of the things that come into play with an organization, that makes them unique."