SonicWall Sales Chief Pataky On Dell EMC, Recruiting Partners And The State Of Security

Declaration Of Independence

Steve Pataky has been head of sales at SonicWall for the last two years, and that's enough time for the channel veteran to have seen some sweeping change.

When he came aboard, SonicWall was two years into its life as part of the Dell family. Last November, the company was spun off as part of the sale of Dell's software business, essentially returning SonicWall to its roots as an independent, private equity-backed firm to the cheers of those who fondly remembered the company's partner program and preferred it to Dell's.

Now, SonicWall is not only independent, but also counts Dell EMC as its largest and most significant customer. The relationship is complex, but Pataky says all parties can be winners. What follows is an edited excerpt of CRN's recent conversation with Pataky.

What's SonicWall's relationship with Dell like now?

Well, obviously, we spun out Nov. 1st, and it's an interesting transition for us. You go from being a division inside of a division inside of a division to being an independent company once again. It's very significant, and we get to reconstitute our channel. Under Dell, we were just one very small piece of the PartnerDirect program while retaining Dell as both our most important and most strategic partner, our most substantial go-to-market partner, as well as our largest customer worldwide. Thankfully, Dell consumes our technology to protect themselves, and that's part of our ongoing effort to continue to secure Dell and as EMC comes into the picture, also look to secure the EMC piece. It created a huge opportunity for us to continue to focus on them as our largest customer.

How big an adjustment has it been?

We've reconstituted our approach to enabling their sellers and their channel. As we separated from PartnerDirect with our SecureFirst program, we wanted to make sure the partners connected to Dell, wanted to continue to work with Dell because they have relationships, that they still saw a viable way to procure SonicWall through Dell. That's what we've been consumed with, and like everyone else, maneuvering through the transition, the distractions, the processes and infrastructure.

When you got spun out, SonicWall partners were fired up. Have you seen that enthusiasm, and have you been able to recruit new partners to the fold?

We saw some building excitement in the market. The Medallion program, which was the former SonicWall program, was very well respected, and there were some great elements under PartnerDirect. There were some elements of the Dell program that I really liked. The principle was to respect the past, but not be burdened by it. Let's do something that's right for the next generation of SonicWall and right for the market in the security space. That's what went into SecureFirst. It's like throwing a party and wondering if anybody's going to come. We were just overwhelmed with the response.

Has that made getting partners over to the new program easier?

We have over 10,000 partners worldwide. That was what we set out to do. We knew day one we had to have a program because our partners needed something to migrate to. Having done big partner program migrations, I thought it would take us about a year. Inside of two quarters, we not only migrated our 10,000 partners, we had over 2,000 new partners sign up with us. It was the fastest migration of a channel I've ever seen. It's one thing to just sign up, but we saw like a 70 percent increase in deal registrations. So this new, independent SonicWall is really resonating.

They signed up and got to work.

They signed up and got busy. They brought their opportunities to the fold. At the same time, we took a lot of pain to say to the Dell guys – and we got some of the more significant Dell partners to onboard with SonicWall – all my meetings are with big Dell partners. What's our go-forward strategy? How do we still enable you to leverage security to pull through a lot of Dell opportunity and let you do that inside the Dell program? Our strategy is always go deeper with a few guys who can scale with a broad channel and distribution. My field team is very focused on those partners that can scale. They can engage with Dell and engage security as, we think, a catalyst toward a bigger conversation.

Have you been able to take new partners away from your competitors?

Absolutely. The new partners we're getting are a combination: It's net new because there's a lot going on around this company and they want to check it out; there's a natural curiosity about what's happening. I also think some of the new partners are partners that somewhere in their history transacted with us, or were just what I would call an 'unmapped' partner. They were buying our technology through distribution and we didn't know them. Now they're coming back into the fold. Some left us. Some voted with their feet after various changes in the company, including going to Dell, and we're pulling them back into the fold, as well.

So Dell EMC becomes one of the keys to SonicWall's growth?

When you step outside the company, and you're no longer a division, it forces you to polish up your value proposition a little bit, and say, are we really on message and on point with what matters to Dell? It takes a lot of confidence, but you realize that if I enable what [Dell] is trying to do, I'm going to move a lot of SonicWall in that process. That's what we're focused on right now. How are we really leveraging security as either a catalyst to get a conversation going, because it's pretty easy to talk to customers about security, or you're having a conversation around storage, or networking or the data center and inevitably you have to answer the security question. Whether it's on the front end or the back end, we spend a lot of time trying to reconcile our value prop for those Dell sellers, whether they're badged Dell or they're partners.

Do you see certain lines in the EMC portfolio that stand out opportunities for you, or are you considering the entire portfolio?

We're mapping that. Obviously Dell's message to the market is: "Hey, we've got a very broad portfolio and we've got to enable everybody." For us, it's about understanding that value prop and where can you really be a catalyst. I think we're going to find certain opportunities that rise to the top faster than others, and maybe in certain markets. Our footprint with small business, small enterprises and distributed enterprises like education, you think about the combination of Dell desktops and security for education, that becomes a really integrated play. There will be parts of the portfolio that serve the markets we excel at, and we want to make sure that that's well understood.

What are you seeing in the security market that presents opportunities for you?

We had a new CEO come onboard who knows security really well. We stood up the new partner program, we launched SonicWall University and we've also launched our first new SonicWall global marketing campaign, the Fear Less campaign. It's a little less doom and gloom than you see out there. It's focused on three particular threat areas that we think customers and the channel need to think about: Ransomware, encrypted threats and email threats. Still, more than 70 percent of threats that come into the enterprise, come in through email. Our orientation is around first, understand the threat. Before we talk about a process or technology, let's understand what your risk is and where you're vulnerable. Then we can talk about different solutions, and our Advanced Threat Protection is really our secret sauce, it's our multi-engine sandboxing technology. We were a little late to the market, but everybody's got single-engine and the bad guys know how to evade it. We've got three.

How have the bad guys changed?

The bad guys, we're talking about organized crime, nation-states. It's really well-funded and well-organized. Malware-as-a-service. You can go on the dark web and buy malware-as-a-service. I want to launch an attack on somebody, let me just download the malware. That's a really insidious landscape to live through. YOU have to think differently about what they're going to do, the countermeasures. That's working for us. We can talk about those three threat areas with credibility because we've got a technology that sits behind it that will work.

Where do you see the market moving, and how does Dell EMC play there with SonicWall? Can SonicWall be complementary with something like [VMware's] AirWatch?

I think mobility continues to be another huge area, if you think of all the threat factors. We're looking at how we can fit into that space right now. We compete with a bunch of different access vendors, but we think there's differentiation in how intelligent you make that access point. There are things you can do. There are policies you can enact at that level that present all kinds of interesting opportunities for companies like Dell and for the channel. I think mobility and securing it a different way with a different level of management becomes a really big opportunity for us. Virtualizing our technology, our firewalls, is on our roadmap, and that's going to open up all kinds of markets. And with the whole 'trusted advisor' idea, who's more trusted than Dell? The ability to have some kind of managed offering, or embedding offering to not only bring the technology to the customer, but to secure them and help them fear less, that's another battleground that's going to happen.

Are you gaining any traction with other hardware vendors?

One of the things that's on our roadmap that we've been talking a lot about is our API strategy. We own our roadmap, we don't have to compete for R&D dollars. We have a major effort to get our final APIs up and running, and we're working with a short list of substantial other guys out there. We're listening to our channel and our customers on what would be valuable, and a lot of it fits into the managed service space so big managed service providers can interface with a firewall in a different way and that would help them deliver better security, probably more efficiently for them.

What do your APIs mean for managed service providers?

With security, management matters a lot, and we've taken the perspective that there's a difference between management and reporting, and a lot of it tends to get mashed up together, especially at the firewall vendor level. For us, we think there's a tool set in our management platform that's very specific to just managing firewalls and deployment, but then there's a whole other level of reporting. We have over a million networks protected. We've sold over three million firewalls. That's more than a lot of our competitors combined. We have a massive amount of threat intel that comes back to our cloud for that. How do you package that and leverage that to help business understand their threat landscape? You're going to see a lot of focus in the future on management and reporting and packaging that stuff up differently to help a managed service provider that's helping 500 small businesses. We have some partners that have 2,000 customers under management. Small businesses. How do I leverage that reporting in a different way to help protect them?

As far as mobility and drilling down on management and reporting are concerned, how important is scalability to SonicWall?

Now that we're independent, scalability, density and capacity are important. We're the best at deep packet inspection, and you want to always have enough capacity to turn that on and not degrade the performance of the network. You need to turn on deep packet inspection to inspect all your SSL traffic and since so many of the bad guys figured that out a long time ago, bad stuff comes in through encrypted traffic. It's akin to saying I locked my front door, but my back door is wide open. Having enough horsepower in your firewall so you can turn that deep packet and inspection on to close and lock the back door too, that's what's needed for ultimate protection.

Have you seen a lot of interest in the SonicWall University training program?

It's off to a really fast start. It's a much more viable way to educate a channel of our size on security. And they can use the content to train their customers. It's a massive number of sales reps and SEs to train. It used to be here's the training, get certified and the shelf life is usually about two years. People come in and they have to re-certify, and they ask if they can test out. Look how fast security is moving, how fast it's changing. What we figured out was we need to have a different approach coupled with how fast the landscape is moving. SonicWall takes a different approach than the typical here's your training, get certified, good luck approach. We have continually refreshed content to educate on the cyber-security space, the fundamentals. Understanding the latest threats. It's a dynamic platform that says you can earn your accreditation, but we'll also tell you every time new content hits the site. It's online, it's free, it's 24/7. It's role-based, whether you're a salesperson or an SE. Everything has an assessment so they can progress through and earn accreditation.