F5 Launches Security Partner Program

The Seattle-based company said Monday its Vault partner program is offering partners incentives, rewards and technical training to drive interest in selling the company's firewalls, access control, VPNs and other security products. F5 is best known as a maker of so-called application-delivery controllers that are installed in data centers to prevent bottlenecks in Internet traffic and to improve security.

Roughly 40 percent of F5 resellers have a security practice. Vault is expected to entice them to sell more and to lure other resellers into selling security, particularly the company's firewalls. "One of the things I am trying to do with this is awareness," Dean Darwin, senior vice president of Worldwide Partner Organization, said. "We're not known as a firewall company."

In asking resellers to add security to their businesses, F5 is directing them to a market that grew about 10 percent last year to $30 billion, according to IDC. Resellers that take the plunge are heading into a crowded market where six, $1 billion-plus IT security firms account for 36 percent of the revenue. The rest are very large equipment manufacturers, start-ups and lots of companies in the middle. F5, which had $1.2 billion in revenue in the last fiscal year, joins Cisco, Juniper and other network gear manufacturers that also have security products.

Vault, a part of the company's overall Unity program, is starting with two offerings. The first is a rewards program for Unity Platinum, Global, Gold and Silver partners. F5 is offering resellers a number of ways of earning points that can be redeemed as pre-paid MasterCards and are additional compensation to the usual deal registration and margin. For example, resellers can earn points for working with F5 security partners Cenzic or WhiteHat Security in doing vulnerability assessments and then closing deals.

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F5 is also offering Spifs, or sales promotion incentive funds, to partners who close certain types of deals listed by the vendors. These deals would be a combination of size and product. "With some of these Spifs, a partner can earn (an additional) $14,000 on a pair of boxes of ours," Darwin says. The company plans to offer Spifs with its Internet firewall, which is used to defend against denial-of-service attacks, and a bundle comprising its application-related firewall, access control technology and traditional data traffic management product.

Spifs have been a subject of controversy over the years. While the incentives are good for the vendor trying to move specific products, they encourage sale reps to push technology that may not meet the needs of the partners' customers. Such promotions have been used by vendors to sell obsolete and discontinued products.

F5 plans to introduce other Vault programs by early fall, including self-service tools available over the Internet, an Apple iPad app for pushing production and promotion information to resellers and a consulting program for partners.

In managing data traffic, F5's core business, the company competes with vendors selling server software that provides similar features. So far, the company has fended off competitors with its dedicated hardware. F5 has predicted 20 percent revenue growth for the current fiscal year.