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Dell is expanding its software-as-a-service (SaaS) portfolio with the acquisition of security service provider SecureWorks. The deal extends an existing partnership between Dell and SecureWorks announced in July 2010. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

The SecureWorks acquisition, which is expected to close early this year, will add managed security services, security and risk consulting services, and threat intelligence to Dell’s growing line-up of managed and professional services. As a company often accused of circumventing the channel in favor of direct sales, particularly in the managed services arena, the question remains: What will this latest acquisition mean for Dell’s channel partners?

Dell’s recent history shows that while Dell has courted resellers of its, its managed services programs have been less channel-friendly. For instance, Dell’s managed services approach is to not interfere with existing customers of Dell certified managed services providers. But if no such provider exists, Dell will sell the services direct to customers.

Dell launched with this direct sales focus for managed services in April 2009. Although certified Dell managed services partners were given the opportunity to sell the managed services to their customers, Dell also came under fire for potentially eroding the pricing of managed services overall.

Plus, after Dell acquired Silverback, the managed services platform provider, it offered managed services to MSPs only in a Dell-hosted mode. That and perhaps other factors caused some serious attrition among Silverback MSPs after Dell’s acquisition. Its largest customer, master MSP Do IT Smarter, told Channel Insider about its Silverback divorce last year.

Dell reports that it currently has 125 certified managed services partners, up from 115 in early 2010, but down from the 150 Silverback had at the time Dell acquired it in 2007.

But Peter Altabef, president of Dell Services, says the channel has nothing to fear from Dell in the services arena. Dell has every intention of quickly integrating the SecureWorks offerings into its channel after the acquisition has been finalized.

Chris Liebert, senior analyst of security services at IDC, told Channel Insider that it was unlikely Dell would cut out the channel in the SecureWorks acquisition.

“I don’t believe that they want to do that. Managed security services are traditionally difficult to reach to small and medium markets because a systems integrator, for example, like Accenture or IBM, they … find it difficult to package the managed services to the SMB and mid-market,” she said.

The market for security services is growing in the SMB market just as it’s growing in the enterprise market, as all sizes of companies have to protect themselves from malware and cybercrime, but as large vendors and systems integrators find it easy to hammer out the details of deals with other enterprises, it’s the channel that acts as feet on the street in the mid-market and below, Liebert said.