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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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