Symantec to exit security appliance business

Symantec to exit security appliance business

Symantec this week laid off staff and said it is shaking up its network and gateway security business, ending the company's experiment with security hardware appliances.

The company said it will discontinue future investment in the SGS (Symantec Gateway Security), SNS 7100 (Symantec Network Security), and SGS Advanced Manager 3.0 appliances, according to a statement provided. The announcement is evidence that Symantec is shifting its strategy away from being a "one stop shop" for security wares, and will focus on lucrative security management and services, said John Pescatore, a vice president at Gartner.

Symantec announced the changes internally yesterday, saying it was a "change in its investment strategy in the network and gateway security business." The news was accompanied by lay-offs affecting approximately 80 employees in the company's SGS unit, according to a company spokeswoman.

SGS appliances are rack-mountable security hardware that combine features such as network firewall, intrusion detection and prevention, anti-spam, anti-virus, content filtering, and VPN. The SNS is an IPS appliance, and SGS Advanced Manager is used for policy management and configuration of SGS devices.

Symantec said it will continue to sell and support the discontinued products, but is "reducing its investment" in them. It also promised to continue development of the underlying technologies in the products. The company will not be producing its own security hardware, however. "Instead of designing the hardware ourselves, we'll look to partners to help us do that," a company representative said.

Security appliances have been a weak point in Symantec's product line in recent years, according to Pescatore. A Gartner research note released in November, 2005, urged "caution" in its rating of Symantec's Network Security and VPN appliances.

The company has not been able to integrate vulnerability research into its network IPS products, nor had it broken out of the small business market with its VPN product to compete against companies such as Cisco, CheckPoint, and Juniper. Those issues became a thorn in Symantec's side as it increased its focus on lucrative security management and services business, Pescatore said.

"To do security management, you have to be good at multiple vendor management and you have to manage the market leaders," he said.

Symantec has purchased a number of services-oriented companies in recent years, including Riptech of Alexandria, Virginia in 2003 and consulting firm @stake in 2004. Enterprise security services and management are increasingly important to the company, as operating system giant Microsoft begins to push its consumer security products such as OneCare and Windows Defender to market, Pescatore said.

Faced with the choice of investing further in its small share of the security appliance market, or abandoning it to become a vendor agnostic player in the more lucrative security services market, Symantec chose the latter, Pescatore said.

The decision to close the door on the SGS and SNS products may reflect changes in the upper management at Symantec, as well.

Former COO John Schwarz left the company in September, 2005 and executives like Jeremy Burton, the company's Group President for Enterprise Security and Data Management, came to the company through its acquisition of storage software vendor Veritas.

With CEO John Thompson staking Symantec's future on security and storage management, cuts to incongruent or less profitable product lines like security appliances were unavoidable, and more politically palatable, Pescatore said.

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