Microsoft Goes After the Security Channel

The software giant announces a new program to help channel partners sell its security technologies, with Microsoft officials conceding that those firms will play a critical role in determining the success of its products.

BOSTON—Microsoft announced its latest program aimed at recruiting channel partners to support its burgeoning security software business on July 12, an effort that company executives and outside experts say will be crucial in convincing customers to buy those products.

Unveiled at the companys ongoing worldwide partner conference in Boston, the software giants SSA (Security Software Advisor) program offers an incentive plan for channel partners that sign on to sell and support its business security products, some of which were also folded together under the firms newly announced Forefront product family name.

Those tools, which are largely made up of the technologies Microsoft garnered via its 2005 acquisition of anti-virus specialists Sybari, include an end client security package, a set of malware and spam-fighting programs for its Exchange messaging server software and instant messaging systems defense applications.

All of the technologies are marketed alongside Microsofts existing ISA (Internet Security and Acceleration) Server 2006 package.

Along with $15 million worth of funds set aside to help its security partners market the products and related services, resellers will be offered at least 20 percent of any security software license sales on top of their existing commissions, as Microsoft looks to aggressively build out its channel, said Steve Brown, director of product management in Microsofts Security, Access and Solutions division.

As with many of Microsofts other product lines, getting the right set of partners to back its growing security portfolio will be critical to driving the technology into end-user organizations, he said.

"It would be hard to underestimate the huge influence our partners will have in moving our entire security vision forward," Brown said.

"These companies are the ones who will bridge the worlds of identity, control and access that weve focused on. To the extent that we can enable our channel to become critical security partners for our customers, we will be able to move forward Microsofts vision for secure infrastructure."

Brown shunned the notion that Microsofts bid to get a larger piece of its channel partners security business will touch off a bidding war between the Redmond, Wash.-based software maker and other security applications providers.

Customers will still need many other types of security applications not offered by Microsoft, allowing channel partners to keep all their security vendors happy, he said.

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At least one of the companys reseller partners said that Microsoft is doing a good job of getting its message across, even if the firm is still in the nascent stages of creating its security business.

Scott Keough, director at government IT specialist GTSI in Chantilly, Va., said that many customers are also impressed with what theyve heard from the software maker thus far.

"Theyre in the earlier stages, and SSA is still pretty high-level, but theyve made some concerted efforts to get consistent messaging out to both the channel and customers, so theres plenty of awareness of whats going on," Keough said.

"In terms of the security vendors we already do business with, having Microsoft in the market might actually make our lives easier based on the new level of competition; we already know how to balance those relationships."

Next Page: Great timing, say analysts.