Channel Is Best To Sell IPS

As a purveyor of integrated perimeter security appliances, Atlanta-based Internet Security Systems (ISS) is concentrating its efforts toward driving significant channel sales. In a recent interview with Section Editor Matt Villano, ISS CEO Tom Noonan discussed the company's increased channel focus and previewed an expansion of its Proventia product line.

CRN: Where does the ISS channel program stand today?

Noonan: As recently as 24 months ago, we were about 75 percent direct business to very large customers. Now we're at 73 percent indirect. It's been [like] the inside of a martini shaker here at ISS in terms of change. We've issued a top-down edict to change the model completely, and it's been fun to watch.

CRN: Why make the change now?

Noonan: ISS has established a premier brand in the market of high-end corporation core enterprise security strategy. We offer a complex but deep and capable intrusion-prevention system (IPS). The best way to sell this is through the channel. We survived long enough with a direct model, and now our partners are looking for something new and different they can generate with us.

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CRN: How many partners does ISS have today?

Noonan: We have more than 100 partners. That includes very large companies, systems integrators and names like Hewlett-Packard and EDS. We also partner with service providers. Quantity is not the goal for us. We do not want to overbuild our channel. Every time I get in front of our resellers, they beg for us not to overbuild the channel, and we won't.

CRN: Where are new partners coming from?

Noonan: Right now, we're attracting a number of different types of partners. We have had an enormous amount of Check Point [Software Technologies] and Juniper [Networks] resellers proactively contacting us for partnership. Beyond that, we're going after three different kinds of partners: companies that are involved in large enterprise systems integrations, managed service providers, and network and system VARs that are niche-oriented. We want to get into the manufacturing, health-care, and finance verticals, and we're starting to see good pickup in energy and transportation.

CRN: You mentioned managed service providers. What do you think of some of your competitors' efforts to incorporate managed services?

Noonan: You look at the likes of Symantec, Cisco, Check Point and some of the other firms and you realize that we have a very capable, competitive profile in this market. I think our competitive advantage is the end-to-end Proventia solution.

CRN: You recently had a partner event. What did you learn?

Noonan: Our partners told us they like our annuity-based business model because it gives them a cut of subscription fees above and beyond maintenance fees. They also said they like the fact that they don't have to generate their lifeblood off of transaction fees. That made us feel good.

CRN: Lots of good stuff, but what part of the program will ISS be changing?

Noonan: Our partners told us we need to do more branding. Beyond that, however, the number one thing we are changing is the pricing on our low-end products. Our partners said the pricing was too complex. We're also going to add some new people to our channel [administration]. We are expanding our advertising both online and through traditional means. Lastly, we've also added a deal registration program, if partners want to use it.

CRN: And on the product side? What's next?

Noonan: It's an exciting time for us and our Proventia line. We've got about 10 new products coming out in the next few months, including a Proventia multilayered desktop protection system, a Proventia server and a Proventia with high availability. We also just released Proventia VoIP protection, and we're the first in the industry to have that. In January, we will be delivering to partners the plan for Proventia with the introduction of the 100-Gigabyte IPS approach. Stay tuned.