Sophos Aims To Take Share From Symantec, McAfee

Sophos, the British-based security company, is going 100 percent indirect in an effort to increase its sales reach in North America and deliver more of its highly regarded antivirus products, as well as a spate of antispam, gateway malicious code and network access control technologies.

"It's a very aggressive evolution of the company and we've vocal about moving down the path against our main rivals, Symantec and McAfee," says Mark Hatton, the company's North America president.

"Roughly 50 percent of end users in the next two years are looking for an alternative on the endpoint," he continues. "We're not looking to lose opportunities to Kasperksy Labs and Panda Software; we're winning accounts that are the hallmark of Symantec."

Over the past several months, Symantec has struggled with a long list of product, channel and technical support problems that have disenfranchised solution providers and end users. Many have called Symantec Antivirus Corporate Edition "a resource hog" that's ineffective compared to competitors. A recent botched ERP transition only amplified frustrations by making it more difficult for solution providers to order products and licenses.

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Symantec is well aware of its channel and technical problems. In previous interviews, channel chief Julie Parrish said that the company is systematically fixing technical and channel support problems.

Brian Foster, a Symantec senior product manager, says the next version of Antivirus Corporate Edition—expected for release this summer—will decrease the amount of memory required and increase scanning times. It will also feature a scanning throttle, allowing users to control the resources consumed to scan a client.

"The quality of our detection has been the best in the business," Foster told VARBusiness. "Now, we need to make the performance better."

Promises of coming improvements haven't been enough to stem defections from Symantec. Trend Micro and McAfee report taking business way from Symantec at an increasing pace.

Sophos is being spurred on by this same dissatisfaction trend in the solution provider ranks of Symantec and McAfee, and hopes to capitalize with a revamped channel program that features 24/7 technical support, new tiers for greater partner profitability, and shared leads.

Hatton admits that Sophos has a steep hill to climb in its lofty ambitions. In North America, Sophos is a $51 million company; globally, Sophos revenues approach $200 million. By comparison, Symantec recorded $4.1 billion and McAfee $1.14 billion in fiscal year 2006. And Hatton concedes that Sophos doesn't have the breath of products of Symantec and McAfee, but counters that the products they do have work better.

"It will take us a while to catch up, but I'm not looking to have their size with the problems they're having," Hatton says.