As McAfee Enters Network Security Space, Some Partners Not So Sure

firewall network security

McAfee's entrance into the network security market was initiated last week with a slew of complementing firewall offerings: McAfee Firewall Enterprise, McAfee Firewall Enterprise Control Center and McAfee Firewall Enterprise Profiler. The firewall technologies were gained through McAfee's acquisition of network security company Secure Computing in October 2008.

And McAfee executives said the new release fills some badly needed gaps in the company's comprehensive security portfolio.

"This is an area where McAfee has lacked," said Dan Ryan, McAfee executive vice president and general manager of the Network Security business unit. "In order to be able to be a pure-play security company, we have to address the network and the endpoint as well."

McAfee executives said that the spate of next-generation firewall products is a radical departure from traditional legacy firewall offerings, which they claim have become outdated, ineffective and incompatible with mobile and Web 2.0 technologies.

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For one, the firewall products are differentiated in that they retain superior management capabilities with ePolicy Orchestrator, McAfee's centralized security management console, executives said. They're also backed by McAfee's Global Threat Intelligence Network, which is powered by McAfee Avert Labs, and are bundled into comprehensive network security suites at an attractive price point.

Individually, the release includes the McAfee Firewall Enterprise, formerly the Secure Computing Sidewinder. The enterprise firewall now relies on the company's Global Threat Intelligence Network and touts application and identity awareness capabilities, with TrustedSource reputation geo-location and Web-filtering technologies. It also comes as an integrated virtual appliance that allows customers to secure virtual environments on their own hardware.

In addition, McAfee launched its Firewall Profiler, which touts increased visibility into individual firewall health and status reports. Specifically, the Profiler is designed to analyze and troubleshoot firewall policies by pinpointing how firewall rules are impacting overall network security and business productivity. Executives also said it will help firewall administrators to understand the business impact of new policies and respond rapidly to changing business needs.

The comprehensive firewall release also incorporates a revised version of the McAfee Firewall Enterprise Control Center and Firewall Reporter, which offers simplified management for multiple firewalls, as well as more accurate reporting.

McAfee executives said that for channel partners, the firewall offerings allow them to expand their existing McAfee portfolio and ultimately provide customers with a broader array of offerings. The company already has about 2,500 network security partners and plans to beef up network security certification programs so more can get on board.

"(The product release is) a launching point for them to have a whole range of conversations. It's as much about McAfee expanding as it is about our partners expanding," said Greg Brown, McAfee senior director of product marketing for Network Defense.

Brown said customers are saying, "Don't show up with some new technology and new company you want me to buy from; tell me how I can build a solution around products and technologies I'm already investing in."

However, while partners say that McAfee's new firewall line is worth taking a look at, some are hesitant to jump on its network security bandwagon with both feet.

And partners say that McAfee has a few strikes against it. Jim Freeman, principal for Attain Technologies, based in Denver, Colo., said that McAfee would encounter obstacles to acquiring new customers by entering a space that is already saturated and commoditized. As a result, McAfee will have to focus its efforts on taking away market share from competitors' customers.

"The firewall space is extremely crowded," Freeman said. "So I think for anybody to enter that marketplace, they've really got to think long and hard about how they're going to get customers. The firewall is the one security appliance that everybody's got. To get into that space, you're going to have to take somebody's customers away from them."

Meanwhile, other partners contend that despite the strong name recognition of the McAfee brand, they prefer to stay with smaller, more established firewall vendors. Increasingly partners said they're taking serious looks at up-and-coming vendors for firewall products -- such as San Jose, Calif.-based application firewall company Palo Alto Networks -- which increasingly offers competitive, innovative and reliable technology at a fraction of the price of the big vendors, they said. Plus many smaller vendors "bend over backwards" to provide support and communication, partners added.

"Companies like them are groundbreaking and game-changing," said one solution provider based in the Western U.S., who asked to speak off the record. "We see those guys tearing at the exterior. It's very innovative and truly changing what the perception of a firewall is."

To McAfee's credit, partners said, the appliance space is not entirely new for the company. Partners said that 10 years ago, McAfee offered a solid antivirus appliance, the E500 and a smaller E250, which did well commercially.

"I don't think they're jumping into a space they're unfamiliar with," said another partner based in the Southwest, who also asked to remain anonymous. "[The E500] was a good product and people liked it."

Another factor in McAfee's favor, partners said, is that its firewall offerings will be powered by brand-name recognition, although the company's service and product quality sometimes lag behind smaller competitors. But many partners admitted that despite the challenges, it's a little hard for them not to offer one of the most widely recognized brands, especially in an uncertain economy.

"It's unusual and odd to hear that people continue to put up with mediocre service, but they know [McAfee will] be in business a year from now," said the Southwest-based partner.

Also, unlike smaller security vendors, McAfee also has the ability to offer its firewall products at a lower price point, while bundling them with other technologies in one product suite, partners said. The branding, plus the overall price reduction, can make McAfee firewall offerings more attractive when budgets are tight, partners said, especially in the midmarket.

McAfee Firewall Enterprise appliances start at $4,900, while the McAfee Profiler Appliance starts at $19,500 and the McAfee Firewall Enterprise Control Center starts at $6,900.

But partners said that in order to truly make a splash in the firewall market and put a dent in competitors' market shares, McAfee will have to entice partners with "serious margins."

"They might supersize you," Freeman said. "You can have this if you get that. If I didn't need that and needed this, I'm not going to pay more money to get both."

Even then, partners said that in the weak economy, customers are not likely to go out of their way to spend the money to rip and replace their existing firewalls, especially if they seem to be doing the job.

Freeman said, "IT staffs are small. They're overworked. Why do they need one more firewall when the one they have might possibly still be working?" he said.

"It has to have failed, and then if it failed, it has to not be under warranty for the average customer to consider replacement," he said, adding, "Until it becomes more compelling as a channel partner, I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon."