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Dell-SonicWall deal: Next-generation firewall boosts data center play

Shamus McGillicuddy

With this week’s acquisition of network security vendor SonicWall, Dell has collected a next-generation firewall for the comprehensive enterprise data

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center strategy it is assembling to compete head-to-head with Cisco Systems, HP and IBM.

“[SonicWall] fits well with Dell because they had already bought Force10 on the networking side, Perot Systems on the consulting side and SecureWorks on the managed services side,” said John Kindervag, senior analyst with Forrester Research. “All of this gives them a very competitive offering against HP and Cisco.”

SonicWall was traditionally a vendor of unified threat management (UTM) appliances that are popular among small and midsized businesses (SMBs). However, a year ago the company introduced SuperMassive, a new line of enterprise-grade, next-generation firewalls. Now the Dell-SonicWall deal gives Dell a firewall with the performance capabilities that large enterprises expect in their data centers. Dell’s presence as a corporate parent will help that technology break into the large enterprise market.

During a conference call about the Dell-SonicWall deal, executives talked extensively about SonicWall’s success in the SMB market with its UTM products, and the value of SonicWall’s 15,000 channel partners. However, SonicWall’s potential value as a data center firewall vendor was clearly on their minds.

“Our focus has been in the SMB market, but we have introduced this whole series of enterprise products,” said Matt Medeiros, president and CEO of SonicWall. “That has given us a great opportunity to go after data center customers -- the Check Point, Cisco and Juniper kinds of clientele. Customers rely on Dell to provide comprehensive data center solutions. SonicWall aligns well with Dell’s midmarket focus, and this transaction will allow us to accelerate the growth of our SuperMassive product line with Dell’s enterprise customers.”

Dell Software president John Swainson added, “We’re going to recommend our customers use SonicWall in their environments to create a more secure data center environment.”

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Until now, SonicWall’s SuperMassive firewall matched up well with other enterprise firewall vendors, but network security managers and data center architects didn’t consider them to be a trusted supplier in large data centers.

“SonicWall is a pretty good product in search of a vision and marketing,” Kindervag said. “The convergence of Dell’s sales and marketing prowess could be a very compelling thing for SonicWall. SonicWall had trouble moving upmarket. Traditional enterprise buyers weren’t that interested in buying it because the company was known as a middleweight. Dell gives them more credibility.”

Dell will have to do more than put SonicWall’s firewalls in the hands of its marketing and sales people. Dell must integrate the SonicWall products into a data center architecture vision, much like it has tried to do in recent months with the Force10 products.

“I think they have an opportunity to integrate the SecureWorks, SonicWall and Force10 pieces together. If they can do that, then they have a very compelling story,” Kindervag said. “But if it continues functioning as three separate boxes and three separate companies with three separate sales forces, they will fail.”

Although SonicWall will operate within the Dell Software business, SonicWall will not abandon its roots as a provider of hardware appliances.

“SuperMassive is an appliance-based software product, as are many of the other products SonicWall sells,” Swainson said. “We will continue to develop appliance-based things within the SonicWall unit of Dell Software, which is a very consistent model for us.”

Pending regulatory approval, the Dell-SonicWall deal should close next quarter. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.