McAfee Tries To Continue Momentum With New Tools, Programs

McAfee's much-improved partner program should get even better in 2006.

That was the message McAfee executives delivered to partners on Wednesday as they kicked off a two-day conference in Las Vegas for about 250 of the company's top-level resellers.

The McAfee brass wasn't shy about recalling the bad, ol' days of two or three years ago, when the security vendor had a disorganized program that was anything but channel-friendly. Alva Purvis, McAfee's senior director of global channel enablement, recalled the partner advisory board meeting the company held in May 2004.

"We knew you [partners] really weren't happy with us, but you did like our technology," she said.

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Today, the one-time single-product vendor has an array of solutions, with plans to add more.

"In 2003, we were a sleepy antivirus company, but through acquisitions and internal development, we now have a strong array of products," said McAfee CEO George Samenuk.

The most recent acquisition was last month's $70 million deal that brought SiteAdvisor into the fold. SiteAdvisor makes an automated search tool that helps users distinguish which Web sites are more likely than others to create security risks. McAfee will first integrate the new technology into its consumer products before taking it to businesses down the road.

"This is the most revolutionary technology I've seen in my 30 years in the industry," Samenuk said, adding that with $1.1 billion in the bank and no debt, the company will continue to seek out "small, security-only acquisitions" while it also invests heavily in R&D.

One thing you won't see McAfee do is pull off a huge merger, a la Symantec and Veritas.

"We're not so big that we're going to try to swallow a whale," said McAfee president Kevin Weiss. "You're not likely to see a merger of equals with us; our upper limit [on a purchase price] probably is about $400 million."

To continue its momentum with the channel, the company will add numerous features to its partner program in the coming year, including building out the McAfee Security Alliance eXchange (MAX), a platform designed to weave partners into the company's core business processes. Among the coming functions of MAX are personalized Web portals, better online collaboration on renewals, a new tech-support system and new quote exception and distribution order processes.

"We're building a complete infrastructure that acknowledges the role of our channel partners and fundamentally changes the way we do business going forward," said Darrell Rodenbaugh, McAfee's vice president of worldwide field operations.

Partners at the event said they're pleased with how channel-friendly McAfee has become, especially with the new Authorized Partner Solutions Services program that will launch later this year.

"They've done a lot of creative things with the program, and their services strategy should really help us drive new business," says Gary Fish, president and CEO of FishNet, a solution provider in Kansas City. "Manufacturers that look at services as profit centers are the ones we steer away from, but McAfee understands what VARs need to be successful."

There also seems to be little partner angst over the sudden departure of channel chief David Roberts, who jumped to security vendor Websense less than two weeks before the conference.

"I've not had one discussion with a partner about David since I've been here at the conference," said Jim Lewandowski, executive vice president of North American sales, who will take over Roberts' role. "He was a key member of our team, but partners have a lot of other stuff they want to focus on."