Symantec vs. McAfee: A Rivalry Renewed

By Lawrence Walsh  |  Print this article Print


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Symantec partners will roll into Orlando this week to hear about new programs, products and initiatives that will in subtle and not so subtle ways be aimed at curbing the “Red Menace” known as McAfee. McAfee is investing in its channels to take share away from Big Yellow. It’s the renewal of an old rivalry.

When solution providers and enterprise customers arrived in Las Vegas last month for the McAfee Focus conference, they were greeted at McCarron Airport by a sea of yellow signs—from the gate to the door—extolling the superiority of Symantec products. It was a marketing coup that didn’t sit well with the McAfee execs, who didn’t appreciate their rival Big Yellow trying to rain on their party.

McAfee has the opportunity to repay the favor this week in Orlando, Fla., as hundreds of solution providers will roll into the Sunshine State for the Symantec Partner Connect conference. No one knows if the Orlando airport will be adorned with red signage, but it wouldn’t be a surprise.

While the two companies have joisted with one another for the better part of the last 15 years, their relatively dormant rivalry seems to be heating up again as Symantec refocuses on growing its security sales while pushing into tangential technologies, while McAfee—with renewed confidence and focus—is pursuing its grand strategy of building alliances and compiling technologies that deliver security "from silicon to satellites." And both companies are looking to alliance partners and resellers to carry them into the future.

Symantec topped Wall Street earnings estimates in its recent second-quarter report, and CEO Enrique Salem credited channel partners with driving sales and revenue in SMB security sales.

"We started to see initial signs of progress in SMB security as we renewed our relationships with channel partners given the launch of our new security products. We also saw strength in the consumer segment as our business continues to benefit from our market-leading products. … The strength of our consumer business was driven by strong Norton 360 sales and by our relationships with eight of the top nine OEMs. … During the quarter, we won consumer online backup deals with Toshiba and Acer. We now have backup relationships with four of the top five OEMs," he said.

The key word in Salem’s statement is "renewed," as Symantec continues to make up for product and channel gaffes over the last two years. Poor performing products, misdirected ordering and tracking systems, and miscommunicated intentions on channel relations hobbled the Symantec channel machine. Symantec has made several course corrections over the past year and will be announcing new programs, training initiatives and incentives designed to spur partners into delivering greater share and revenue in the midmarket and enterprise.

McAfee has virtually the same "renewed" challenge, but for different reasons. Despite 18 consecutive quarters of revenue growth and profitability, McAfee hasn’t had the best relations with its own channel. Declining margins on core products, persistent rumors that the company was being shopped for acquisition and a virtual revolving door in the channel leadership suite made partners uneasy and sapped confidence in the company.

The problems both companies have grappled with over the past two years have opened the door for new competition. The once staid security software market is in play as companies such as Kaspersky Lab, Sophos and even Microsoft take aim at shaving some share off Symantec's and McAfee’s foundational products, most notably antivirus and network security. Even smaller companies such as ESET, AVG, Panda Security and BitDefender have been wooing both Symantec and McAfee partners to their ranks.

While McAfee’s quarterly numbers failed to meet Wall Street expectations, they were still in the black. At the company’s Focus event, CEO Dave DeWalt expressed confidence in his new channel leadership—Fernando Quintero in North America and Alex Thurber (formerly of Cisco Systems) on the global level. He spoke about building alliances—such as the reseller alliance with Hewlett-Packard, the collaboration with EMC for backup solutions and the work with Adobe to integrate data loss prevention in online apps. DeWalt reaffirmed his commitment to remaining a pure-play security vendor and said McAfee would make an acquisition per quarter to fill gaps in the portfolio.

"Putting the pieces together and selling them together is the real difference," DeWalt told his channel partners, noting that neither Cisco nor Symantec has the breadth of security products—particularly on the enterprise level. "We will put the pieces in place to be the best security company in the world."

While both Symantec and McAfee are under pressure by new rivals, new technologies and new delivery systems (top of the list: cloud computing), they’re also looking at each other with renewed interest and competitive intensity. Where McAfee called out Symantec by name at its partner conference, you can be sure that CEO Enrique Salem, channel chief Randy Cochran and other executives at Big Yellow will be making subtle and not so subtle remarks about the need to curb the Red Menace.

Let the rivalry begin ... again.

Lawrence M. Walsh is vice president and group publisher of Channel Insider. Click here to read his blog, Secure Channel, for the latest insights on security technology and policy trends affecting solution providers. 

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Lawrence Walsh Lawrence Walsh is editor of Baseline magazine, overseeing print and online editorial content and the strategic direction of the publication. He is also a regular columnist for Ziff Davis Enterprise's Channel Insider. Mr. Walsh is well versed in IT technology and issues, and he is an expert in IT security technologies and policies, managed services, business intelligence software and IT reseller channels. An award-winning journalist, Mr. Walsh has served as editor of CMP Technology's VARBusiness and GovernmentVAR magazines, and TechTarget's Information Security magazine. He has written hundreds of articles, analyses and commentaries on the development of reseller businesses, the IT marketplace and managed services, as well as information security policy, strategy and technology. Prior to his magazine career, Mr. Walsh was a newspaper editor and reporter, having held editorial positions at the Boston Globe, MetroWest Daily News, Brockton Enterprise and Community Newspaper Company.

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