Fortinet CEO: 10 Ways To Catch Check Point, Stall Palo Alto Networks In 2014

Engineering And R&D Still Core To Growth

Fortinet founder and CEO Ken Xie told CRN that the company plans to boost marketing dollars by at least 50 percent to showcase its line of security appliances. The company will continue its strategy to develop its next-generation firewall and other networking gear through its own engineering and research and development teams. The company surpassed Juniper Networks in market share, Xie said, and is seeing wins against rival Check Point in enterprise sales, which is next in its cross hairs. In addition, Cisco Systems will be busy integrating its Sourcefire acquisition, leaving the door open to capture market share. Meanwhile, the firm is trying to divert attention from Palo Alto Networks and FireEye, two vendors that Xie describes as "aggressive in the market" with their appliances designed to detect advanced threats.

Xie and Peter Brant, vice president of Americas Sales, told CRN how the company will build momentum in 2014 as it tries to become a billion-dollar company by 2015. The executives said Fortinet remains committed to being a 100 percent channel-driven company.

10. ASIC Chip Development

Fortinet will continue to develop products that can provide security without severely impacting network traffic performance, Xie said. Despite investing heavily in marketing in 2014, Xie told CRN that engineering as well as research and development continue on its custom line of application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) chips. New chips are unveiled about every two years, he said. The hardware-accelerated network security performance beats the competition in bake offs, he said.

9. New Chief Financial Officer

Fortinet's new chief financial officer Drew Del Matto addressed partners during its 2014 Global Partner Conference, taking place this week. The former Symantec executive is experienced and knows the regulatory process well, Xie said.

Del Matto served as Symantec's acting chief financial officer as well as senior vice president and chief accounting officer. He has been in the new role at Fortinet for less than a month. Xie said Del Matto was hired for not only his financial experience but also his experience in the network security market.

8. Bolster Sales Of Broader Product Line

Fortinet is encouraging partners to sell its broader portfolio into clients, rather than its line of unified threat management and next-generation firewall appliances. The company's product set includes a VPN, wireless access points, Ethernet switches, secure VoIP devices and authentication.

Fortinet UTM appliances support retail analytics designed to monitor a customer's location at a store and determine the customer's identity, email address and browsing data, beginning with collecting the user's unique smartphone identifier. In a partnership agreement with Kiana Analytics announced this week, Fortinet said its wireless access points and its FortiGuard appliance will support the collection of Wi-Fi fingerprints from customer smartphones to detect customer presence and track customer location and movements at a retailer. The announcement is in conjunction with the National Retail Federation's annual conference.

7. Official FortiSandbox Launch

The FortiSandbox, which was unveiled last summer, had been stymied by licensing talks with Microsoft, according to Fortinet executives. The appliance uses a virtual instance of Windows as a sandbox where suspicious files are detonated and observed. The launch is expected by the end of the first quarter, said Darren Turnbull, Fortinet's vice president of strategic solutions.

FortiSandbox is Fortinet's answer to Palo Alto Networks' WildFire sandboxing service and FireEye's line of sandboxing appliances. Designed to detect custom malware associated with so-called advanced threats, FortiSandbox uses a dual layered approach for malware detection. It attempts to filter out known malware and other threats and then move any remaining suspicious files into the virtual runtime environment for observation. The appliance can be on-premise or SaaS-based. Connectors are available to the FortiGuard next-generation firewall and the FortiMail antispam appliance.

6. A Focus On MSSP Support

The company is also heavily recruiting partners for its managed security service provider program. Stephan Tallent, director of Managed Security Service Providers, Americas, at Fortinet, told CRN that the company has so far recruited 290 partners into the program, since it was launched last year. Training and certification are required under the two-tiered program. Platinum partners are required to have two certified engineers. Gold partners are required to have one certified engineer.

Fortinet is also announcing that its training and certification has been approved for the Veterans For Hire program, giving MSSPs incentives to hire a veteran to support monitoring and maintenance of the company's appliances.

5. Lead Generation

Fortinet executives describe their lead generation as "broken." Repairs have been in the works to back-end systems supporting the collection and dissemination of leads and the company's deal registration system via the partner portal.

Twenty people were added to the lead generation team and more staff members will be added to the call center team with dedicated resources for each region. Leads are available to partners of every level. In addition, marketing and development funds are available for joint marketing activities. The company's new Campaigns In A Box, provides lead generation material with an email template, white papers and solution briefs that partners can co-brand. Every quarter, Fortinet will be updating and releasing new campaigns, executives said.

"You have to have multiple exposures to a message before it sinks in; that is what these campaigns will deliver to you," said David Lieberman, Fortinet's director of field, channel and alliance marketing.

4. Better Communication

The company's partner portal has been completely overhauled in an effort to make material easy to find and relevant. As part of the boost in marketing spending, the company has added staff to create content associated with battle cards, product descriptions and other material. A rating system is in place to help Fortinet improve content, said Fortinet's Lieberman.

Fortinet partners attending the conference welcomed improvements. Until now communication had been sporadic and the portal difficult to navigate, said Rich Hardin, president of ASysTech Inc. "This was a sorely needed improvement," Hardin said.

3. Certification And Training

Fortinet executives are encouraging resellers, systems integrators and managed service providers to get more staff certified on the company's product line. To encourage participation, the training program has been revamped. The number of days engineers are required to attend proctor-led lab instruction has been reduced from five to three days. Lab work can be remote or in the classroom.

The learning management system has been completely overhauled, building in flexibility into the courses. Recorded training course lectures are available 24/7. Beginning in the second quarter, the system will be changed so partners can submit payment through distribution, rather than through a credit card.

2. Focus On Enterprise Growth

Fortinet plans to give more attention to boosting sales into enterprise customers, including telecom carriers, Internet service providers and other large businesses, Xie said. The channel will continue to be relied on for growth, he said. Four years ago, the company made a big investment in the enterprise, and that is continuing to pay off with big data center wins. Xie said.

Enterprise customers are working with the channel in the field, Xie said. They are delivering support to the enterprise customers as well. The company has a specialized team that handles the relationship with large telecom companies. Adoption of the "D" series appliance is increasing in the data center. An increased investment in marketing will help bolster sales in the financial industry and large data centers at major enterprises.

1. Big Investment In Marketing

Fortinet's Xie said he plans to increase investment in marketing by 50 percent in 2014. The company needs to generate more leads to grab the attention of the end client, he said. The company will continue to maintain its current technology investment philosophy, Xie said.

Fortinet's DNA is on the technology side, he said. "We still believe that the technology, the platform and the product are still better," Xie said.

"In the past four and a half years, we profited too quickly compared to some of the new competitors who put all the profit into the sales marketing," Xie said. "Palo Alto and FireEye woke us up."