Fortinet Americas Channel Chief Retools Training Program

Network security vendor Fortinet said channel marketing veteran and entrepreneur Joe Sykora has assumed channel responsibilities at the company and is overseeing the implementation of a number of changes, including bolstering training and support activities.

Sykora, who previously served as senior director of Americas marketing at Fortinet, led field and lead- generation activities. He assumed the role of vice president Americas sales operations and national channels last year following the departure of Michael Valentine, and other sales and channel executives, to rival endpoint security and unified threat management vendor Sophos.

Sykora ran a security consultancy, IT virtualization and hosting businesses, and was a Fortinet partner for more than a decade during that time. A member of the company's partner advisory council, he chaired the subcommittee for marketing and solutions and said he had very close ties with Fortinet's executive team before being recruited to work at the vendor in 2010.

[Related: Fortinet Channel Chief To Partners: We're Much More Than Firewall Appliances ]

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"I am dedicated to the enablement of our partners because I've been there," Sykora said. "I believe in the power of the relationships that our partners have with their customers."

Fortinet is fighting Sophos in court alleging that Valentine and other executives violated noncompete agreements. Sophos' lawyers, meanwhile, have countersued alleging patent violations. Sophos, which started in the endpoint security software market, is eyeing growth in North America following its acquisition of UTM maker Astaro in 2011. The company is competing against Check Point, Fortinet, Dell-SonicWall, WatchGuard and other firms for a share of the SMB market with its networking appliances.

The disruption caused by the executive departures may have irked some Fortinet partners, who are evaluating other UTM competitors, including Sophos. Gil Buthlay, president of BEK, a Fortinet partner based in Brunswick, Maine, said he thinks Fortinet has lost its presence in his area. Buthlay said his company likes FortiMail, Fortinet's secure email gateway, however, it is sticking with Dell-SonicWall due to the size of his firm's client install base.

"[Fortinet] kind of drifted and, unfortunately, as a small-business owner drifting is not a good thing to us," Buthlay said.

NEXT: Many Partners Staying Put, Says Fortinet

Despite shedding executives to Sophos, many partners are standing by the company, Sykora said.

The company is spending heavily on engineering to reconfigure its endpoint and networking business, he said. In fact, Fortinet saw a double-digit increase in partners over the last year, he said. Fortinet differentiates itself by providing innovative carrier-grade equipment with features that go all the down into its small and midsize business segment, he said. The company also is making gains with its next-generation firewall appliances, he said.

"We've had a lot of enterprise wins and we're also seeing significant growth in SMB and midenterprise," Sykora said. "Our channel partners are technical in nature and understand the value of the platform compared to the competition."

Fortinet, which has long been a 100 percent channel-driven security vendor, is adding head count to bolster its training, sales and enablement activities, Sykora told CRN. The company is hiring both channel account managers and channel sales engineers to help partners, he said.

The company also announced that it is making its online training and certification program free to all registered partners as part of the unveiling of its new learning management system. The self-paced system breaks down training into modules to provide more flexibility, Sykora said. It is offering its instructor-led courses and custom training program.

"We understand time is money, so if our partner engineers or sales team is taking a certification class, we're no longer going to bill them for it," Sykora said. "The best we can do is offset that cost by giving it away to them."

The company offers two courses, Unified Threat Management I and II, to prepare partners to take the proctored Fortinet network security product certification exams. The courses were rewritten for self-paced instruction and broken into segments that focus on specific topics, such as firewall policy setting, user authentication, VPN, virus detection, email filtering, web filtering, and application control, among other management and deployment activities, Sykora said.

Unified Threat Management I consists of 10 online modules plus one day of online lab exercises. The second part consists of 12 online modules, as well as two days of proctored online lab exercises, and addresses routing, virtual domains, high availability, advanced IPSec VPN, intrusion prevention, diagnostics and resource utilization.