SurfControl Shareholders Approve WebSense Deal


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SurfControl shareholders this month approved rival WebSense's $400 million acquisition of their company, but resellers are still mixed on how the merger will impact the channel.

"When I first heard the news about the acquisition I was pretty surprised, I thought of them like Coke and Pepsi in that they needed each other in the market. But now that I've had time to digest it all, it makes sense to me and it's a good thing for us because it will allow us to get into e-mail filtering as well with SurfControl," says Mike Miller, account manager at Addison, Texas-based reseller ANI Direct, a WebSense platinum partner.

SurfControl, which started out in content filtering and e-mail security, last July also added managed services to its offerings through the acquisition of BlackSpider Technologies, a provider of e-mail and Web filtering managed services. "One of the biggest values that will fold into the WebSense family is the outsourced model that SurfControl has," says Kevin West, CEO, K Logix, a security solution provider in Brookline, Mass.

WebSense also added information leakage prevention products to its portfolio through its $90 million acquisition of Port Authority last year, another area where existing SurfControl partners see as new opportunity.

"Content filtering has become somewhat commoditized and reduced to a more transactional type of sale, so when you start broadening your portfolio, into areas like information leak protection, you offer a deeper security solution skillset so you can compete better against the guys just pushing boxes," says Peter Bybee, president and CEO at Network Vigilance, a San Diego, Calif.-based Platinum level SurfControl partner who sits on the company's reseller advisory council.

"Threats are also evolving and there are lot of issues with threats going outbound, not just content coming in," Bybee added. "We're seeing a lot of threats merge and become multifaceted. For example, the threat that might come into a business environment might come in from e-mail, but if you click on a link it switches to a content area, and because SurfControl has a product for e-mail filtering that now complements what WebSense is doing on the content filtering side, when you blend them you get a better, more comprehensive unified defense than a standlone product could give you."

But despite the expanded product portfolio, some partners are still skeptical about how the two companies' channel support models will meld together if the deal closes Oct. 3 as expected.

"SurfControl seems to have really gotten their channel act together, with better communication, assigned channel reps, assigned market development funds for promotions, and an open dialogue with field sales reps, while WebSense hasn't really been that channel friendly [outside of dealing with of the top five security integrators]," says Greg Hanchin, principal, DirSEC, a security solution provider in Denver, Colo. "They have products that serve the midmarket, but they don't have the tech support and the ability to get to mid-market customers correctly."

WebSense brass points out that the company has made efforts in the past year to improve its channel support under the leadership of its new CEO Gene Hodges, who came on board in January 2006. The company has recently introduced inside channel account managers, enhanced its deal registration program, refreshed its partner portal and launched a technical support portal.

Bybee, one reseller who was initially also skeptical about how the two companies would combine their partner efforts, is now feeling more optimistic.

"What I have heard unofficially through my contacts is that WebSense has been reaching out to people inside SurfControl to ensure that they won't just start making changes without getting people involved, and that includes getting feedback from resellers. One unofficial discussion with an executive at WebSense assured me that the platinum-level SurfControl resellers would have a definite place and standing in the newly formed company," Bybee says.

However, partners won't see any action on that front until after the deal closes and WebSense still faces the challenge of reversing existing partner perceptions based on past experiences.

"The channel is long in tooth, it doesn't forget these kind of things. It's tough to change overnight," Hanchin says.

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