Symantec, Intel Offer Recession Medicine

"We hear from a lot of enterprise customers who want to decentralize IT management and push it out to branch offices," said Steve Morton, vice president of product management in Cupertino, Calif.-based Symantec's Endpoint Security and Management Group. Morton and his fellow panelists met Monday at Symantec's ManageFusion conference in Las Vegas to discuss specific tactics for selling and managing IT products and services in a tough economic climate.

Morton said Symantec customers' expectations for a return on their investments in IT products such as the security vendor's Altiris system management software had shortened considerably in recent months -- going from satisfaction with an 18-month ROI in better times to demand for tangible returns in 12 months or less in the current climate.

"They now want a very quick turnaround on their investment. It's about getting the most bang for the buck, as quickly as possible," he said.

Technologies such as virtualization and remote, automated system management that rapidly increase efficiencies while cutting costs are good fits for a market demanding that IT "do more with less" -- though the sometimes unreasonable expectations represented by that phrase had some panelists chuckling.

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"We all want to do more with less, but many companies are at the physical limits of being able to do more with less," said Gregory Bryant of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel's Business Client Group. "What firms today are left with is a need to find ways to increase efficiencies in business processes."

Such efficiencies come in several shapes and forms, said Andi Mann, research director at Enterprise Management Associates, a Boulder, Colo.-based IT analysis and consultancy firm. Mann pointed to desktop and application virtualization as a sound strategy for companies buying or merging with other firms.

"That way, they can immediately get the new acquisitions which are outside of the corporate IT network on stream and in the fold from day one," he said.

Although the discussion centered on enterprise-level strategies, the panel also addressed the current environment for IT shops serving small to midsize businesses. Morton and Bryant contended that IT products and services that remain crucial to the success of enterprises are likely even more critical to the health of SMBs.

Symantec's Morton said SMBs face the same "attack vectors and security threats" as enterprises but generally wanted simpler, consolidated IT security solutions, while Bryant argued that smaller businesses have "less wiggle room and less fat to cut from" because a single security breach or IT failure could potentially take down an SMB, whereas a larger company might be able to absorb it.