The secret sauce is selling managed firewall/router appliances that come with a subscription service to keep these products current. The customers get something they can set and forget, so smaller customers—or even companies with a far-flung staff of remote workers—can have secure access and not worry about whether users have patched their systems and are keeping up with the latest virus signatures.
Selling a managed service has many things going for it. You get a monthly annuity that is built into the product via a subscription to the various security services, such as anti-virus, firewall and threat management. You have a box that can easily be upgraded as customers networks grow and become more sophisticated. You can remotely monitor and configure the box without having to show up on- site, making it easier for both you and a customer to maintain its Internet connection. Furthermore, with some attractive margins, you have a reason to stay in touch with this customer and expand your services over time.
There are many vendors in this space, but the two most important for the channel are Check Point Software Technologies and SonicWall. Both offer devices that combine a router, firewall, DSL modem and intrusion detection in a single box not much larger than your average novel.
They have products that automatically update their firmware on a regular basis, making sure that their virus signature files and other threat detection rules are current so you dont have to constantly remind your clients to do these chores. Some models offer additional features, such as wireless access points and VPNs, making the solutions even more compelling and turning them into one-stop access and security devices.
All the products have Web-based management interfaces, making it relatively easy to make configuration changes and monitor their operations. But this means that VARs will need skilled monitoring staff. "VARs that want to get into managed services have to go beyond just answering pagers and know how to staff a network operations center with the right kinds of field engineers," said Kevin McDonald, vice president of Alvaka Networks, of Huntington Beach, Calif., and a SonicWall VAR.
SonicWall, which offers the largest choice of products, has been selling firewall/-routers geared toward SMBs longest and is also the priciest vendor. The company accommodates networks of all sizes with boxes that include wireless access points and VPNs along with anti-virus scanners. SonicWall also has the most well-developed partner program, so its a good place to start. "SonicWall recognizes that they have to custom-tailor their program to individual VARs needs, and they have been phenomenally supportive of us. They are also willing to tell you what other VARs are doing without giving away any secrets," McDonald said.
"SonicWalls GMS made it easier to manage firewalls for our customers and takes a lot of legwork out of the process. Pushing one button, I can update the firmware on 20 firewalls at once," said Deepak Thadani, president of SysIntegrators, in Woodside, N.Y.
For its part, Check Points Safe@Office box has plenty of depth—something you would expect from the vendor. The product has a very extensible firewall, anti-virus and anti-spam filtering, a VPN, and an impressive intrusion detection system that uses the same Smart Defense technology found in the more expensive Check Point products. For example, you can set up this box to prevent Skype connections across your network. Check Point has several models, both with and without DSL modems and with and without an integrated wireless access point. There are other vendors besides SonicWall and Check Point, including a relative newcomer called TrustELI and more established vendors such as Barbedwire Technologies and WatchGuard Technologies. While each company has its advantages, clearly SonicWall and Check Point are better places for VARs to start selling these kinds of services.
David Strom is a freelance writer in St. Louis and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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