Sophos To Increase Firewall Performance In A Push For Bigger Customers

Sophos hopes to attract its larger endpoint customers by increasing its firewall performance by up to 200 percent.

The Abington, U.K.-based security vendor said its XG and SG firewalls primarily serve businesses with less than 300 users today, according to Dan Schiappa, SVP and GM of Sophos's end user and network security groups. Sophos is therefore looking to bring its firewall up to match the clients using its endpoint offering, who typically have just north of 1,000 users.

"We have a huge span of customers in that [endpoint] space, and, right now, our firewall lives with a very small percentage of them," Schiappa told CRN. "So if we can get that average to come up, we're making synchronized security available to more of our customers. That’s kind of a big driving factor."

[Related: Sophos Launches New XG Firewall Version, Adds New Application Visibility And Deployment Options]

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Sophos's synchronized security strategy is focused on developing connectivity between the endpoint and the firewall, Schiappa said. Schiappa said he took that synchronized security story out to customers with between 2,000 and 5,000 users and received consistent feedback.

"Every single one of them said, 'Ugh, I'd love it, but you don't have the firewall that I need,'" Schiappa said. "Can you heartbeat [integrate] to vendor A, B, or C?"

Schiappa and other Sophos executives were with 300 customers and channel partners in Boston Thursday discussing the future of cybersecurity.

Larger customers using Sophos's network security offering today – such as the Jimmy John's sandwich chain – typically put firewalls in each of their locations so that it's a more widely distributed smaller footprint, according to Schiappa. Schiappa said the higher-performance firewall should allow Sophos to go after the higher end of the mid-market without requiring the use of multiple devices.

"Both of those products lines [the XG and SG] were designed specifically for smaller customers," Schiappa said. "In order to get that scale to go after larger customers, we just need to do a little bit of a redesign of the data plane."

Most of the bottleneck for the firewall today is in the data plane, or the ability for the firewall to inspect the data, Schiappa said. That is due in part to an increase in encrypted traffic coming through the firewall, which requires the data to be decrypted, analyzed, and then re-encrypted, according to Schiappa.

Sophos plans to tackle that challenge using both software and hardware, according to Schiappa. The software can optimize the data plane to function much faster, Schiappa said, while hardware acceleration can increase the speed at which the firewall handles encrypted traffic.

The performance increase will also enable Sophos to do broader and faster SSL inspections, which are used to verify the identity of web servers.

Schiappa expects to see the same competitors in the firewall space such as Fortinet and SonicWall even as the Sophos firewall moves more into the upper-mid market. Palo Alto Networks and Cisco might occasionally creep a little bit into the very top tier of the mid-market as well, according to Schiappa.

The go-to-market motion, though, has played a greater role in defining Sophos's competitive landscape than the technology itself, Schiappa said.

"The only way you can hit the high-end of the mid-market is through a channel if you're going to get scale," Schiappa said. "While Palo Alto and others have channel programs, they're certainly not as mature as ours."

Sophos began redesigning its data ports three months ago in anticipation of the firewall performance increase, Schiappa said, and should have a little more to talk about in the spring 2018 partner conference timeframe.

"This is just the beginning of the innovation cycle for what we're doing on network," Schiappa said. "We have a really, really exciting road ahead."

TeamLogic IT's core business typically drops off after 200 or 300 users, with the Woburn, Mass.-based franchise typically consulting with an internal IT department for customers larger than that, according to Nick Beardsley, chief solutions architect.

Larger customers are typically looking for a firewall that's able to pull in information and reports and provide more granularity, Beardsley said. Given the level of granularity Sophos is already able to provide, Beardsley said he sees value in opening the company's firewalls up to customers operating at a greater scale.