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McAfee To Enlist Channel In Update Error Cleanup

McAfee is in full damage control mode in the wake of its antivirus update error by formulating a plan to launch a sweeping cleanup and consulting project that will be conducted through the channel.

McAfee is attempting to pick up the pieces from a wreckage of its antivirus update error by implementing a plan to foot the bill for channel partners to provide remediation and consulting to their affected customers.

A source close to Channelweb.com said that altogether, McAfee planned to fund channel partners to conduct a multitude of remediation services, as well as an up-front health-check, and online and onsite consulting best practices services, which would also include travel expenses and time.

Channel partners initially said they viewed the news of the ambitious sweeping initiative with skepticism.

The remediation process would also entail an internal scan of impacted customer's IT environment to determine exactly how their hardware and software systems were configured, along with a comprehensive report.

The furious backpeddling on McAfee's part follows in the wake of an significant flaw in an antivirus update April 21, which mistook the Windows XP Service Pack 3 operating system for malware. The false positive error shut down affected computers, and subjected users to the blue screen of death and an endless reboot cycle. Altogether, the snafu affected the computer systems of tens of thousands of businesses, school districts, university systems and government agencies, costing them thousands of dollars in remediation services and lost productivity time.

While tens of thousands of organizations have already incurred out-of-pocket remediation service expenses, the source said that this next phase of the cleanup effort would be at no cost to the customers.

The source added that the channel remediation effort was not intended to sell more McAfee products, or to imply that the snafu occurred because customers' misconfigured their IT environments.

Company executives are still working out budgeting, as well as logistics on how to disseminate the necessary information to channel partners. McAfee plans to finalize details and formally announce the project later this week.

But McAfee channel partners say that perhaps while well-intended, the company's impending project might leave solution providers underprepared and unequipped to step away from their businesses and deliver these kinds of services on a massive scale.

Andrew Plato, president of Anitian Enterprise Security, a Beaverton, Ore.-based security solution provider, is looking at this effort on McAfee's part with a skeptical eye.

"Sounds great, but we don't have that kind of staff geared up and ready to clean up McAfee's mess. And I suspect most VARs are in that position. The bad economy has many VARs operating on lean staffing. We're fortunate in that our resource shortages are the result of an overabundance of work. But I know that isn't the case for most VARs," Plato said.

"However, it's nice to see them try to bring some services to partners. But these kinds of programs can quickly fall apart in the details -- details like 'how do we get paid and when.' Experience has taught me that these kinds of programs can be exceedingly difficult to collect upon. There are a million rules and exception."

One Southwest-based solution provider, who asked to speak off the record, said that he would be prepared to drop everything to service affected customers if McAfee were to launch a massive remediation and consulting project, but doubted that the problem was big enough to warrant McAfee's involvement.

"They would have to convey 'here's the scope of the problem, that it's so big we have to reach out the channel partners to fix it and we don't have the manpower to fix it so we're going to compensate you to do it' -- I haven't seen anything like that. Nothing gives us an indication that it is that big," he said.

McAfee's reinvigorated remediation effort might indicate that the company realized it lacked awareness regarding its customers' IT needs in how they configured their systems -- which is why the antivirus error affected some customers and not others, partners said.

Next: Partner Reaction Mixed


Raj Rao, vice president of enterprise application services at Keane, a Boston-based VAR, said that McAfee's lack of awareness resulted in a quality gap that ultimately led to the massive antivirus update flaw.

"The testing that is done today (at McAfee) is very functional centric. It is not user centric. The company should know who their users are," Rao said. "This is where the gap is, the quality gap in the industry. It is accelerating because they don't know the users, and not understanding how users are using (their systems). This is a great example of how they could have prevented such a horrible scenario for themselves."

Up until now, McAfee has been subject to a firestorm of heated criticism regarding its handling of the disaster. In particular, the cleanup effort follows on the heels of heated backlash against a McAfee blog post that downplayed the disaster last Wednesday.

"We believe that this incident has impacted less than one half of one percent of our enterprise accounts globally and a fraction of that within the consumer base -- home users of products such as McAfee VirusScan Plus, McAfee Internet Security Suite and McAfee Total Protection," said Barry McPherson, McAfee executive vice president, in the post. "That said, if you're one of those impacted, this is a significant event for you and we understand that."

McPherson later silently retracted the sentence that minimized the impact of the snafu.

"That was probably not the best way to handle that," said Chris Boykin, CEO of Friendswood, Texas-based Got Net Security," (McPherson) probably spoke too early, making a rash decision about how many people it actually affected. Then he got swarmed and attacked."

Other solution providers concurred, adding that the blog failed to acknowledge the extent of the damage, or their customers' financial losses.

"I really think that this was such an unnecessary event, it could have easily been prevented," Rao said. "They said it affected one and a half percent of enterprise users, and a little bit less than that of consumers. When you take one and half percent of millions of computers, you're talking about, who knows, tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of users."

Boykin said that he anticipated that McAfee sales would likely take a hit, but that the disaster would probably not have a significant impact on his business, due to the fact that he offers a multitude of competing products.

"I would expect that (sales go down) but again, it remains to be seen. A lot of people are in year-long contracts. It depends on how they were treated and handled, and when it comes up for renewal, I would not be surprised if they would look for other alternatives depending on how they were treated," he said, adding, "We're not main any rash decisions ourselves either. We carry other competitive products already. If the industry swings away from McAfee, we're going to be protected."

However, for many affected customers, the damage is already done and some channel partners say that it may be too little, too late.

"It's not pretty and their competition is jumping all over it," said Jim Hindy, branch manager at the Atlanta office of Technology Integration Group.

Channel partners were on the front lines following the disaster, and many have already proactively reached out to customers with immediate remediation services.

"We were as proactive as we possibly could, warning them and advising them and sending some technical resources on sight to mitigate what may have happened," Hindy said, adding that the disaster caused some technical time and issues with some of his customers, but that he didn't "believe it jeopardized anything in the long term."

"It was an unfortunate incident. But in this world we live it, that sometimes that happens," he said. "Out of adversity comes opportunity, that's the way we always looked at it, anytime we have a chance to star and shine in front of our customers, it's always nice."

Kevin McLaughlin contributed to this article

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