Is life at SonicWALL better now it's not part of Dell?

When IDG Connect spoke to Dell Software President John Swainson in 2015, he had grand plans for his division. The former IBM exec/CA CEO wanted his unit – an amalgamation of Quest, SonicWALL, StatSoft, KACE, Boomi, and others – to transform Dell from just a hardware player to a provider of software and services.

Swainson had plans to make the software unit a $5 billion business in five years, with SonicWALL’s security offerings as a key part of the puzzle. Dell bought the firewall and network security vendor in 2012, some 21 years after it was founded, as one of the first parts of Dell’s software division.

However, plans change. Dell acquiring EMC for a record $67 billion changed the focus of the company. And as a result the San Jose-based company was sold along with the majority of Dell’s software division to  Francisco Partners and Elliott Management in June last year.

Dell and EMC agreed a remarkable combination, we look at the basics of the $67bn purchase - Dell-EMC: The simple guide to a complex deal

Inside vs. outside the Dell bubble

“I would say that the four years at Dell were very beneficial to the SonicWALL business,” says Florian Malecki, International Product Marketing Director at SonicWALL. Malecki was part of the company before it was acquired by Dell, and so has seen its recent transitions all the way through.

Where some acquisitions can see friction arise between the acquirer and the acquired, he says it was a good time that continues to help the company in various ways today.

“We recruited some new partners coming from the Dell world, maybe not the partners we would have addressed naturally being a standalone company. And on the partner side there was an opening of large opportunities that maybe as SonicWALL we wouldn't have been involved [in].”

Dell’s sheer size and reach meant SonicWALL simply had more opportunities to reach customers.

“Dell, or Dell EMC now, is one of the biggest IT organisations in the world with access to a vast array of end-user organisations,” he says. “And when Dell was selling data centre infrastructure, a firewall was always part of the equation so they were able to offer our technology.”

In the wake of the Dell/EMC merger, SonicWALL got a new CEO, Bill Conner. Here, Connor talks of life after Dell spinout.

And it seems that habit of offering SonicWALL hasn’t gone away, despite the break-up.

“We still have this strong relationship. We were colleagues six months ago. The synergy, the relationship, is still here. If Dell today as part of an overall solution needs to offer a firewall they offer our technology.”

Avoiding rose-tinted glasses, however, there are benefits to not being attached to Dell any more.

“We still have the relationship with Dell, but we are more independent in terms of some partners. Maybe that's an area where we had some limitation because it is a large organisation with many products therefore many competitors, closing the door to us.”

“Now this has gone away so we are able to extend our partner outreach.”

SonicWALL announced a new channel partner program in November, showing its intent to grow and reach out to new opportunities.

While being a part of Dell meant being a part of one of the biggest companies in the world, it also meant dealing with the bureaucracy and decision-making processes that comes with such scale.

“SonicWALL compared to Dell is smaller, so you get the sense of being more agile, more flexible, and quicker to react. In the IT security industry, things happen very quickly.”

While he’s quick to assure us SonicWALL was by no means sluggish during its Dell days, he says there’s less meetings with less people, which means decisions can be made far more quickly. And unlike some of Dell’s software acquisitions which were entirely enveloped, the SonicWALL name was never fully retired, which meant the company was starting on a stronger foot when it became an independent entity.

“The brand never actually never went away, so we were able to keep that identity and now, being an independent company, we can reinforce the brand.”

What next?

Now that the company is flying solo, the company’s main focus is helping companies move beyond mere breach detection and into prevention, and helping companies get ready for the incoming General Data Projection Regulation, and Malecki thinks it’s the SMBs which need the most focus.

“There is obviously a lack of IT security resources and knowledge. Let's forget the Fortune 500 and the blue-chip companies. The bulk of most British or European businesses are 50 users, 500 users or 1000 users.

“The threats are increasing, the sophistication is increasing, yet there's not enough knowledge, there is a gap in terms of the skills. The ability to prevent breaches before they happen, before they enter the network, becomes more important. As a customer what you really need is real-time, automated breach prevention.”

And, like any good security company these days, SonicWALL has the European Union’s incoming GDPR on its radar.

“Obviously, we cannot ignore GDPR. I think only now organisations are starting to realise that 'oh, we have a big mountain to climb’.

“It's now that people are realising it's just around the corner. Maybe it's human nature that you don't care about it until you really have to.”

SonicWALL released a report back in September which showed that although the level of awareness and concern around GDPR was high, actual preparedness was worryingly low.

“My concern is that large organisations will be fully aware. They know what to do and who to engage with. But what about the smaller organisation, the 500-user organisation? They will be under the GDPR regulation, they have all the requirements, and if they have a breach, they'll have to pay.”

Education is key

Malecki also says that companies need to do more to strengthen what he calls ‘the human firewall’.

“A lot errors or mistakes or breaches happen because someone, somewhere did the wrong thing. And it's not necessarily they did the wrong thing because it was malicious, it was because they did not know.”

“Large organisations will have regular training every six months, every quarter, every year, but the bulk of the businesses do not get training.”

He says that training the normal users who are the consumers of IT about commons risks to the business  – for example clicking on links in questionable emails, or showing them demonstrations of live hacks – for just a couple of hours every six months or so can eliminate a lot of bad behaviours.

“If you don't educate, show examples, people won't think. They are in their day to day routine, they do their job, their attention might be a bit low, and then bang here you go. You get compromised.”


Also read:
Dell’s software president on learning from his IBM past
Dell-EMC: What happens next and how will rivals respond?
Expert Comment: The Dell-EMC deal


« C-suite talk fav tech: Edo Tealdi, NTT DATA


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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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