Courting the channel: Dermot Hayden, Sophos

Dermot Hayden, Sophos Ireland
Dermot Hayden, Sophos Ireland



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18 January 2016 | 0

After 30 years in business, IT security vendor Sophos has grown to the point where its products help secure networks used by 100 million people and 100,000 businesses in 150 countries. Notable customers include the likes of Pixar, Xerox, Ford, Avis and Toshiba. It has more than 15,000 channel partners globally. In June this year, the company achieved a valuation of more than $1 billion when it floated on the London Stock Exchange.

Sophos has operated in Ireland for the bulk of those 30 years and Renaissance has been the vendor’s distributor in this country for all that time. “We’ve grown our amount of business and our channel partners significantly,” comments Sophos Ireland country manager Dermot Hayden. “We’re adding partners all the time and we’re becoming more dominant in the market.”

He believes one of the vendor’s biggest selling points is that it sells exclusively through the channel. “Our approach is a channel first go to market model,” Hayden says. “There isn’t any second, it is channel and that’s it. We never deal directly with customers. Partners never come up against us in situations no matter how big and important the customer is to Sophos.”

Sophos also has a strong channel programme that helps to develop partners, providing training, support, deal pursuit and closure. “It’s managed very closely and tightly by the distributor,” he emphasises. “We don’t tend to have huge numbers of partners going after the same business creating a situation where nobody is earning good margin from the business.”

The vendor has also focused a lot of development over the last three years on helping partners to deliver IT security more simply and at less cost to them through its back end tools and the Sophos partner portal. “Our vision is resonating with partners,” Hayden claims. “That’s why we’re getting more and more partners coming to us. In the early days, we had to chase partners to help them understand what we did. Now, they’re seeing us in customer environments and they want to be part of the action.”

He argues that Sophos has “taken a different approach to security and how we deliver solutions. We’ve developed products for small and mid-sized enterprises that typically don’t have anybody focused on IT security. They need security that’s simple, integrated, easy to set up and that just does the job.”

Easy targets
While the headlines are dominated by stories of large scale security breaches and infections, the fact is many smaller organisations are equally affected. He cites a PwC study which found 40% of breaches occurred in organisations with less than 1,000 users. “Small and medium Irish businesses are affected in the same way every day, but they don’t make the news. It works against us in the industry, because they think they’re not a target.”

With attacks becoming more co-ordinated and complex, there is a temptation to make the solution even more complicated. It’s something Sophos has deliberately resisted. “You can’t solve complexity with more complexity, you need simplification. That’s what’s driving all our product development and our channel strategy,” Hayden states. “We want to help partners deliver the more coordinated protection that customers need today. That sets us out as unique in the industry today.”

It also makes Sophos particularly suited to the Irish market where most businesses are small and medium sized. “Everything we do from a product perspective is targeted at the small and medium business sector,” he notes. “Ireland is right in our sweet spot.”

Hayden is also keen to differentiate Sophos from other security vendors in the Irish market, claiming its rivals are “very focused on point solutions. Endpoint vendors are focused on the problem from the endpoint perspective and network security vendors look at it from the network security perspective because those are the areas they know”. He contrasts that with Sophos’ synchronised approach because it has a 50:50 balance between the endpoint and the network.

Technology that has been traditionally delivered in point solutions can now be put in one place and more easily delivered and managed. “There isn’t anybody else that can do that,” he claims. “We have the heritage, visibility and products at the network and endpoint to be able to bring them together.” He stresses this approach doesn’t mean partners and customers “have to settle for second best. We’re in Gartner’s leaders’ quadrant for endpoint and network solutions”.

He points to Sophos Cloud, which integrates endpoint security, mobile device management (MDM), server protection and secure Web gateway into a seamless solution with a single integrated management console. The vendor plans to add cloud email and encryption next year.

The vendor also released Sophos XG Firewall last month which, with its Security Heartbeat technology, brings endpoint security and network security “together for the first time ever in the industry”. Linking the firewall to endpoint security using the cloud enables threat intelligence and information to be shared from the network to the endpoint and vice versa.

IT organisations can benefit from advanced threat protection capabilities without additional agents, layers of complex management tools, logging and analysis tools, or expense. Security Heartbeat is fully enabled and included as part of Sophos XG Firewall and Sophos Cloud-managed endpoint protection.

“You can now easily share information between the two in real-time,” Hayden remarks. “Nobody else is doing this or is even geared up to be able to do it. We’re coordinating endpoint and network defences to help partners with prevention, detection, intervention and remediation.”

Migration and communication
Sophos has provided migration paths from its existing technologies to ensure customers’ existing investment is protected. “Partners are able to deliver something absolutely unique that simplifies security and makes all the constituent parts of security talk intelligently to each other. If partners have an existing Sophos customer, this is a fantastic opportunity to greatly improve their visibility and protection.”

The Sophos partner portal has been expanded to incorporate Sophos Cloud, enabling partners to manage multiple customers within a single portal. “They can click through to the customer console and monitor, configure and remediate,” Hayden says.

He doesn’t expect an overnight shift to XG Firewall and Sophos Cloud, predicting a gradual process, but partners have reacted positively to the news. “Customers can take their time, partners can take their time, they can do it when it’s right for them. We’re providing the tools to make it easier for partners to migrate customers.”

But Hayden is in no doubt that moving to Sophos’ integrated synchronised security protection will “provide huge benefits in additional security and instant response. We need to make sure existing endpoint and firewall customers know about the technology. Others talk about this but nobody does it in a simple, integrated way where it’s actually usable.”

Billy MacInnes

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