Symantec's Possible Altiris Sale Prompts Partners To Question Mobile Strategy

A rumored sell off of the Symantec Altiris unit is prompting some questions about the company's mobile security and endpoint management strategy, but industry experts say a sell off may not signal any significant changes to the company's sales approach and channel opportunities.

Symantec plans to share more information about its go-to-market strategy next week following a published report in the Wall Street Journal that it could be selling off its Altiris unit. The company purchased Altiris for $830 million in 2007 and has further developed the client management suite with additional management tools, including support for virtual desktops, laptops and mobile devices.

At first glance, merging endpoint security and endpoint management makes logical sense, said Jon Oltsik, senior principal analyst at Milford, Mass-based Enterprise Strategy Group, Inc. But, progress on merging activities like power consumption management and patching and configuration management has been slow and tedious at best, he said.

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"Those are different activities controlled by different budgets within the organization," Oltsik said. "They can certainly sell off Altiris without impacting their mobile strategy because the degree with which it is integrated with Altiris is minimal. I don't think it really took place."

Symantec said it doesn't speculate on mergers and acquisitions but added that Symantec chairman Steve Bennett, who became chief executive in July, replacing former CEO Enrique Salem, would have more information to share at a strategy announcement next week. The company has an earnings announcement scheduled for Jan. 23. "As we said last October, Symantec is evaluating all of its options to best position the company to deliver value for our employees, customers and shareholders," a company spokesman told CRN.

Bryan Rhodes, director of product management at Symantec, indicated that the company was making changes to the Altiris brand during the company's Vision User Conference last year, but reaffirmed Symantec's commitment to the future of the platform.

"I think you'll see a diminishing of the Altiris brand over time," he said during a Q&A portion of a session at the conference. "We're not diminishing an investment in the capability and technology, but it's the diminishing of the usage of the brand."

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At least one channel partner agrees with Enterprise Strategy Group's Oltsik and doesn't think selling Altiris would have much of an impact on the channel. Developing Altiris into a complete unified console was an ambitious idea but too hard to do, said Andrew Plato, president and CEO of Anitian Enterprise Security, a Beaverton, Ore.-based security consultancy. Plato called Altiris a dog and said Microsoft System Center is seen as a lower-cost alternative.

"Symantec has done almost nothing to improve it," he said. "It's expensive, complex and largely ignored. Like a lot of Symantec's big plans, it never came to fruition."

Other channel partners are looking for validation that mobile security and more specifically, mobile device management would remain part of the Symantec portfolio, even if Altiris is sold off.

Symantec has made significant investment in mobile security, said Oltsik. It acquired mobile device management vendor Odyssey Software, which is tightly integrated with Microsoft, and later it added mobile application management firm Nukona, Inc. to its product set in March, integrating both firms into its Endpoint and Mobility Group.

Brian Okun, regional director of sales at Prevalent Networks, Warren, N.J., said unloading Altiris comes as a complete shock. The company is one of Symantec's top partners, certified across Symantec's entire portfolio.

"Certainly [Symantec's] Steve Bennett is looking to deliver shareholder value with a move like that," Okun said. "I'd hope there is some outreach to the Symantec channel for a validation or [rejection of] this rumor."

Toby Zellers, vice president of strategy and solutions at McLean, Va.-based TVAR Solutions, said his clients, who do business with the government, are looking for the platform to gain FIPS compliance, a federal standard for encryption.

"The feds are trying to figure out mobile device management and bring-your-own-device issues," he said. "I thought the Altiris piece was a large part of their mobile device management strategy, so I would want to better understand their strategy moving forward if Altiris was no longer part of the portfolio."