Security appliance vendor WatchGuard has outlined a big focus on improved product functionality and performance this coming year.
The company has been travelling Australia in a bid to prove its seriousness and worth to resellers.
Mark Stevens, US-based chief strategy officer at WatchGuard, said the vendor planned various initiatives around its new upgradability strategy.
That strategy, introduced about six weeks ago, centred on a range of developments around making WatchGuard products better performers.
WatchGuard said applications needed higher availability and to run over more sorts of boxes. Software would incorporate more functions, such as URL filtering and gateway anti-virus, he said.
Intrusion prevention detection was coming out later this year, Stevens said.
"We're going to continue to develop the upgradability strategy," he said. "And certainly what we will see is new products starting just above our current SOHO [options] as well. We will have new platforms coming out. [We plan to be] completely refreshed by the end of the year."
Stevens said the aim was to provide security on demand as networking and security needs and products converged. The company was doing work around Instant Messaging (IM) and VoIP and was "talking about" introducing SSL VPN next year.
"There's a lot of new stuff we're working on for 2005," he said. "WatchGuard is really transforming more into an integrated security appliance rather than just a firewall. We need to offer breadth of functionality and offer that in a very a la carte way so we can offer what's needed."
Future WatchGuard boxes might include a 1 Gigabyte CPU, memory stick and flash cards from 2005. "With big files, you want to be able to cache them on a hard drive, for example," Stevens said.
He suggested that convergence of networking and security had begun at the enterprise level but was trickling down to SMBs. Customers wanted not only to buy from one vendor, but to buy fewer applications and products overall.
"So they want networking, a firewall and so on in one box. And I see we are going to move away from firewall just being on the perimeter. It's going to become more like the switch," Stevens said.
Firewalling would also require more interfaces, he said. "In the fourth quarter, we'll have more firewalls moving more into the core of the network and start to see segment to segment firewalling," he said.
While vendors such as Check Point had already offered such products, they tended to be high-priced and thus more suited to large organisations, Stevens said.
Yet businesses of all sizes would increasingly need to protect their networks from threats posed by mobile workers, he said.
Workers connecting their laptops to their office networks exposed businesses to yet more viruses and spyware. Businesses could no longer afford to trust all users of its network, but would want to keep certain functions and parts of the network separate, he said.
"Firewall doesn't really defend you today. So I think we're going to see [this development] in even smaller companies," Stevens said. "A new box coming out will be more aligned with that strategy."
WatchGuard's upgradability strategy was so far working well for its channel, Stevens claimed.
"We saw about 20 percent takeup of web-blocking applications and [anti-]spam actually doubled in April, compared with March," he said. "I don't know if it will be world-shattering but it seems to me the upgrade strategy is getting traction."
Stevens had been travelling around Australia for three weeks talking to resellers, he said.
He gave Perth's Silverfern as an example. That company was selling upgrades to WatchGuard products already, he said.
"Their focus is on 20 to 300 users, which is really our core market. Our strategy is 20 to 500 users," Stevens said. "Perth is really dominated by the big guys, such as Alphawest, but Silverfern is doing very well in its niche."
Sven Radavics, director of sales for WatchGuard Australia and New Zealand, said WatchGuard's channel was doing well, with revenue increasing "dramatically".
He singled out Sydney VAD LAN Systems for special praise. "LAN Systems [for example] has undergone some major changes but from our perspective has shown more commitment to WatchGuard and performing very well for us this year," Radavics said.
A lot of longer term resellers were getting Firebox certification, he said.
"I think probably the most interesting thing for me, as somebody who has been with WatchGuard for a few years, is that for the first time in memory resellers are actually calling me out of the blue saying they're interested in being our partners," Radavics said.
Stevens said WatchGuard was working hard to build brand awareness. The vendor had been canvassing analysts and news media in the Asia Pacific region as well as spending on advertising.
"One thing that really is hard to do in the SMB market is to get ourselves top of mind with SMB customers," he said.
Things seemed to be looking up in the local IT market generally, Stevens added.
Jeff Hurmuses, managing director of WatchGuard Asia-Pacific, said WatchGuard had changed something like 70 percent of its staff in the Asia-Pacific since he started as managing director in January.
"Now we have a very strong team," Hurmuses said.