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Blue Coat, Websense Battle For Partners

Competition in the content-filtering market is getting fierce.

Strategic partners Websense and Blue Coat have been slinging mud at each other over the past few months, with each company sending detailed correspondence to channel partners describing the purported technological shortcomings of the other.

San Diego-based Websense fired the first shot in February when it sent partners a document titled, “Blue Coat—You Get What You Pay For!”, which questioned Blue Coat’s security capabilities in a bullet list of points. The document—viewed recently by CRN—alleged that Blue Coat’s WebFilter product has technological flaws, including over-blocking of URLs, weak protection against spyware and lack of realtime updates. The document also pointed to Blue Coat’s battered stock price as a reason that partners should steer clear of the vendor.

The Websense document states: “It is not possible that a seven-person organization with half the database size ... could outperform a company like Websense with over 10 years of expertise and an award-winning product, as truly independent tests have shown.”

Soon after, Blue Coat executives fired back with a document of their own that rebutted each of Websense’s claims—and then some. “Websense inflates the price of its solution by charging a premium for the Web-filtering categories most needed by its customers—including security, productivity and bandwidth-intensive sites,” Blue Coat said in the document, viewed by CRN.

Adding more drama to the battle is the fact that many solution providers in the content-security space have relationships with both vendors.

“In the past, [solution providers] used to be aligned with a single vendor in the space, but as technologies begin to overlap, you’re starting to see your vendor loyalties become foggy,” said a solution provider, who didn’t want to be named.

Websense and Blue Coat have a partnership in which Blue Coat uses Websense’s URL filtering platform in its SG line of security appliances, said Steve Mullaney, vice president of marketing at Blue Coat, Sunnyvale, Calif. Mullaney said he doesn’t expect the partnership to be affected by the recent friction between the two vendors. Blue Coat also offers its own URL filtering technology from its 2004 acquisition of Cerberian.

In the first quarter, Websense stopped selling its technology directly through Blue Coat, but the technology can still be purchased through any of the two vendors’ joint resellers as an on-box or off-box integration, according to a Websense spokesperson.

VARs said the increasingly intense competition in the content-security space is being fueled by the consolidation of technologies and vendors’ expanding product lines. As the competition grows, vendors are beginning to focus more on leveraging channel relationships as a means of differentiating themselves.

For example, SurfControl, Scotts Valley, Calif., one of Websense’s chief rivals in the content-filtering space, recently announced it will pay 105 percent of the margin a partner would have received if they lose a deal to a SurfControl direct sales rep.

“If we ever compete with a channel partner number, we will not only give them full margin and an apology, but 5 percent more. Obviously, it sends a message to our channel that we are deadly serious,” Vice President of Worldwide Channels David Harris told CRN.

Websense is also stepping up its channel game. President and CEO Gene Hodges recently brought on former McAfee channel chief Dave Roberts as vice president of Americas sales as part of widespread systemic changes designed to “channelize” the company and improve its relationships with partners (CRN, May 15).

However, one solution provider, who requested anonymity, suggested that Websense focus more on building strong channel relationships than on criticizing its competitors. “Websense has done a good job in becoming an industry standard, but Blue Coat has done a far superior job at being more channel-friendly and has continued to scale and grow their product line to offer clients the best value,” he said.

Although vendor relationships are important, the executive said, the greater threat to VARs in the security space comes from increasing consolidation of security technologies and growing competition in a market where everyone is already fighting for every dollar.

“VARs must focus on becoming subject matter experts and build themselves into trusted advisers, and they’re really going to have to step it up on the value side,” he said.

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