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When it comes to antivirus software, competition has never been fiercer. At a time when many are questioning the value of AV software, smaller vendors are becoming more aggressive in their efforts to encroach on the turf of companies such as Symantec and the McAfee unit of the Intel that have dominated the space for years.

Case in point is ESET, a provider of AV software that just signed a distribution agreement with Ingram Micro. While ESET has sold through the channel for years, it has never sold through distribution. Bill Mylchreest, ESET channel manager for strategic accounts, said it is a time when more end customers than ever are reconsidering their AV options.

Driving much of the dissatisfaction at the customer level is the significant frustration with signature-based approaches to AV. By the time many security vendors first identify a threat and then develop a signature that enables AV software to combat that threat, a massive amount of potential damage can be done. While ESET incorporates signatures, Mylchreest said its primary differentiation comes in the form of a heuristics engine that identifies threats based on anomalies in how a particular piece of code is behaving.

Mylchreest said that in addition to sensing a demand for change in the marketplace, ESET sees Ingram Micro as a means to increase the number of partners selling not just its AV software, but also a variety of other security products that make up an expanding ESET portfolio.

At a time when many AV products are free, that expanded portfolio is likely to prove critical for the channel. While many organizations still see value in paying for AV software, the amount of money they are willing to part with is not as great as it once was. As such, if solution providers in the channel want to stay in the IT security game it’s become incumbent upon them to come up with a mix of security products that actually deliver a demonstrable value to the customer.

Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.