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“Merger, Demerger with Dell has been a Win-Win Proposition for Us”

Debasish Mukherjee, Country Manager, India & SAARC, SonicWall, got into a candid conversation with Amit Singh as he spoke about his experiences over the three phases of SonicWall: pre-merger, post-merger and then separated with Dell.

It has been a year since SonicWall separated from Dell. Please take us through the achievement highlights of the last 12 months?

debasish mukherjee
Debasish Mukherjee, Country Manager, India & SAARC, SonicWall

We have recently completed a year of separation with Dell. This period has been both challenging and interesting as we re-branded, re-focused and re-aligned the organization. Soon after separation, we charted three focus areas: innovation, partner enablement, and branding.

To become innovative enough, we restarted the process to keep pace with the threat landscape. We realized that almost 60-65 percent of the entire traffic is encrypted, which is growing 100 percent YoY. Hence, we focused on visibility into encrypted traffic and how we can ensure zero-day protection. We introduced Capture Threat Prevention, a cloud-based multi-engine sandbox designed to discover and stop unknown, zero-day attacks. Combined with our SonicWall Deep Packet Inspection of TLS, SSL, and SSH, we are able to safeguard networks from encrypted threats. This is offering us an edge in the enterprise market.

We have also launched cloud-based email security and many of the cloud-focused solutions are in the offing. One of the recent and innovative products we launched is NSA 2650, which is an industry-first 2.5-gigabit port. With eight 2.5 GbE interfaces, it is one of the first firewalls built to embrace the 802.11ac Wave 2 WiFi standard by matching the wired and the wireless throughput. In addition, we have enhanced our user experience features through cloud-based reporting and manageability in our Global Management System.

Further, we enabled our partners through the SecureFirst partner program, which has found large success among the channels. It is our new initiative to integrate all our partners on a robust portal by enabling partner registration, development, deal protection and back-end rebates. SonicWall University is also a part of the SecureFirst program. In fact, we extended the training platform, which was used for our internal training, to our partners.

Our overall channel focus has enabled us to re-orient and re-align our partners. In fact, many of our erstwhile partners came back to us and many new partners joined us.

On the branding front, we started the Fearless Campaign. We observed that the competition tend to use ‘fear’ as a tactic in their messaging among the customers around increasing threats. However, we took a different approach to campaigning that customers can become fearless with SonicWall as their cybersecurity partner. That’s the positive side of the story.

These initiatives over the year have enabled us to grow much higher than the market growth rates. We have acquired SME and enterprise customers from verticals like government, healthcare, manufacturing and so on. In fact, our enterprise sales grew dramatically by over 3-times.

Over the last five years, SonicWall has been through three phases: pre-merger, post-merger and then separated with Dell. How has being your experience over these three phases and what were the challenges you faced?

Honestly, we didn’t face any challenges during or after separation with Dell. Even post-merger with Dell, SonicWall had been a separate profit center. And, after separation SonicWall is again a thin and flexible organization, enabling us to take decisions and actions pretty fast.

In addition, with our separation from Dell, the entire partner community supported us well. And, that’s the reason we have grown amazingly.

Moreover, SonicWall as a brand has gained a lot during all the three phases. Before being acquired by Dell, SonicWall was limited to selected regions and countries. However, post-merger we leveraged on Dell’s worldwide presence and gained access to enterprise accounts.

Being a 25-year old mature organization we understand our customers well, hence despite all these phases, we have been able to survive and thrive.

Many partners allege that SonicWall could not continue its earlier growth momentum post-merger with Dell due to challenges in the business model and GTM. The company also fell behind in technological innovations. Due to this, the competition took advantage of the situation and gained sizeable market share. Please share your thoughts on this and how you addressed these challenges after separation?

Prior to acquisition by Dell, SonicWall was considered as a prominent SMB brand. However, with Dell, we entered into many enterprise accounts. In fact, Dell actively supported us to get into the enterprise market.

However, there was some sluggishness, initially, on the channel front as a lot of partners felt threatened, due to confusion and certain assumptions. Few partners thought that Dell channels would get preference and they would not get similar support from us, leading to discontinuations, even before Dell could respond and address the concerns. This kind of confusion is understandable during mergers and acquisitions, and it did have an impact on our business. But as we set out on our own again, post-Dell, these partners came back to us as they were confident about the value we place on our channel relationships.

Overall, I look at it positively enough; with the merger, we got aggressively into enterprise space and it opened up a lot of avenues and markets for us, which we are benefiting even after the de-merger. It’s actually a win-win proposition for us.

The cybersecurity segment in India appears crowded with about 25 large, mid-sized and small players. How do you plan to capture the market share over the next 12 months?

We target to gain market share through our push on innovations. Our focus on the customer pain points and threat landscape has worked well for us. We observed that encrypted traffic is the major pain area for customers; hence we started working on that.

We made the deep-packet inspection as a fundamental of our security architecture and developed our proprietary technology, Reassembly-Free Deep Packet Inspection (RFDPI), in which we open and check each and every packet. That’s the USP we created against the competition.

We must realize that majority of the traffic is encrypted and most of the vendor solutions are not even addressing that space.

Further, we are addressing malware, ransomware and zero-day threats with our Capture Threat Prevention. While the competition has either on-premise sand-boxing or cloud-based sandboxing solutions, we are offering three-engine sand-boxing. Our Capture technology has enabled us to proactively protect our customers from malware and ransomware attacks.

Hence we are much ahead of the competition on the technology front.

In addition, with customers moving towards cloud, we have started developing cloud-based security solutions. The first solution we have come up with is email-security based on cloud, which is also integrated with our Capture solution.

Thus we are addressing customer pain points by analyzing the threat landscape and the customer need. Moving forward, we are confident of capturing major market share and reach the leaders’ quadrant soon.

What are your top priorities for the next 12-18 months? What are the winning opportunities you see for the channel in India with SonicWall?

Over the next one year, we will continue with our SecureFirst partner program and will strengthen our existing partner base. In fact, we have grown our partner base from 250 partners in 2016 to over 500 currently. However, our focus is not just to grow channel base but to ensure profitability and quality of partners.

Hence, we are developing partners with our enablement programs. Our focus is to develop employees of partners as our extended arms. The approach is to get partners address the customer pain points and start enterprise-class solutions selling.

Further, to enable partner growth, we are getting into all verticals including government, where we have found huge success. In fact, we have created two focused teams to target opportunities in commercial accounts and the government. We have closed large deals on projects including Smart City, Smart Grid, and e-Sign. Hence, SonicWall is no more limited to SMB space and is aggressively acquiring enterprise customers. This is a bright opportunity for partners with us.

We are seeing a trend towards machine learning and artificial intelligence-based security solutions. Please elaborate how SonicWall is working towards this space?

The fact that we have been able to proactively offer solutions to customers has been only possible through R&D in our Capture labs across the globe. Our Capture labs also double as a sandboxing research station, which captures online activities from over 1 million centers across the globe.

Hence, there is a lot of research happening on AI to create in-future protection for customers. Based on the activities we capture through our centers and our research on AI, we have been able to predict the kind of attacks and protect our customers. For instance, we were able to create a defense over a month earlier on April 12, 2017, against WannaCry attack which took place on May 19, 2017. Similarly, we were able to pro-actively offer protection to customers before the recent Bad Rabbit attack.

Further, India has a large role in our R&D and go-to-market and accounts for over one-third of our global workforce. Besides our sales and marketing teams based out of India, we have our own R&D center (Capture lab) in Bengaluru and tech-support to handle India and Japan operations. We are seeing massive growth in the tech-support and R&D; hence a lot of investment is in the pipeline for India.

Do you think that firewall business will be affected by the increased adoption of the public cloud?

We don’t see any challenge from the cloud. On the firewall front as well, we don’t see any threat at least in India. This is because of government rules and regulations for sectors like BFSI and other sensitive verticals.

However, we understand that things may change in future. In fact, the commercial segment has already started adopting cloud for non-critical applications and backup.

The trend is towards cloud and we are working pro-actively to offer solutions based on the cloud. While we have already launched a couple of cloud-based products, many are in the pipeline.

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