SonicWall acquisition could hurt Aventail users

SonicWall acquired Aventail last week, vaulting itself into a larger SSL VPN market, but some warn that Aventail users could take a hit.

SonicWall last week acquired SSL VPN maker Aventail for roughly $25 million, a move that some industry experts said could cause problems for Aventail's enterprise customer base.

Historically, SonicWall, an IT security and data backup and recovery solution maker, has catered to the small and midsized business (SMB) market. Aventail, on the other hand, was targeted more at large enterprises and remained as one of the few surviving standalone SSL VPN vendors.

Yankee Group senior vice president Zeus Kerravala classified the acquisition as "strange" but said that Aventail faced tough times as a standalone SSL VPN maker when heavy hitters such as Cisco, Citrix, Juniper and Microsoft offer the functionality in their platforms.

"It creates an environment where being a standalone is very difficult," Kerravala said, adding that Aventail had already sold off the services side of its business a few years ago.

The Aventail purchase, he said, is SonicWall's attempt to enter a larger market, but the execution could leave current Aventail users in the lurch.

"For SonicWall, it was a low cost to enter a higher-end market," he said. "Aventail had historically sold to larger enterprises, SonicWall to small businesses. What if SonicWall turns the development of the product to SMB issues, not enterprise ones? If SonicWall continues to develop product geared at Aventail's traditional market, then there's nothing to worry about. But that's not SonicWall's core competency."

According to the acquisition announcement from SonicWall, the deal will improve secure remote access for distributed and global enterprises. Analysts indicate that 85% or more of data that IT managers seek to protect is outside of the corporate network, leaving companies to seek out viable remote-access solution sets.

The announcement noted that the move "enables SonicWall to better meet the needs of a broader set of customers by combining the two companies' complementary SSL VPN offerings."

Aventail has been known as a leader in larger, higher-end SSL VPN deployments, while SonicWall, according to a recent Infonetics Research report, was the unit market share leader for SSL VPN appliances in 2006.

"The Aventail acquisition is an important step on our growth strategy," said SonicWall's president and CEO Matthew Medeiros. "We will compete more effectively in the remote access space, building on complementary elements in our two organizations, and offer new solutions that enhance our relevance for today's dynamic enterprise."

Mary Beutjer, systems administrator for PCC Natural Markets, a Seattle-based natural food co-op, said she was "happy to hear of the acquisition." Beutjer currently uses Aventail for SSL VPN and SonicWall firewalls, giving her a unique perspective into both companies.

"If they were going to be bought out, I'm glad it was by SonicWall," she said of Aventail.

Beutjer said the acquisition can allow a stronger product offering on both sides, with Aventail potentially incorporating enhanced security features. She also said that adding Aventail's product line to the fold could make SonicWall more powerful in areas aside from the SMB and midmarket space. She compared an Aventail/SonicWall combination to Juniper.

"I don't anticipate anything will be taken away," she said.

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