IT Distribution moves full circle to VAD: WatchGuard's Randy Johnson

IT Distribution moves full circle to VAD: WatchGuard's Randy Johnson

Channels need to deliver true opex model via distribution ecosystem as MSSP market gains momentum, says Randy Johnson, WW Distribution Chief at WatchGuard

Credit: WatchGuard

WatchGuard Technologies continues its steadfast focus on delivering integrated, multi-function threat management appliances. A provider of network security appliances, the company has overhauled its distributor ecosystem as and when to ensure a profitable channel that caters to the changing security needs of the organizations globally. ChannelWorld India spoke exclusively to Randy Johnson, Director, Worldwide Distribution, WatchGuard on his recent India visit on the current state of network security, the distribution model and the channel ecosystem.

Edited excerpts.

Pure IT distribution companies are becoming VAD, services integrator or cloud-delivery model. Will this phase impede the traditional ‘box-push’ model?

 I really think we’re seeing the IT distribution come full circle and return to the VAD (Value Added Distribution) model that we started with almost two decades ago. To be fair, many categories within the IT space have become ‘consumerized’ and the end users have become much more sophisticated. In fact many of them have in-house IT staff which means that some don’t always require the advice or input from a VAR or solution provider.

I think that trend has really driven the ‘box-pusher’ reputation within the channel. As the industry evolves, the IT channel is once again relying on distribution for value-add services, but it does not take away from that core skill of volume logistics, catalog management, credit services, etc.

 The biggest change is evolution of MSSP space, which means the ability to address that market with a true opex consumption model that our channel can deliver via our distribution channel. Cloud services and offerings continue to grow and we are planning to expand our product line there as well. We have some very exciting changes coming to our channel in 2018.

 Does that indicate that the hardware security appliances will die in the modern technology world?

 Yes. Especially with the product (UTM, Firewall) we offer that is hardware based; our channel partners are still in the traditional hardware provider phase. But the good part is that they are changing and they are layering the services on top of the boxes and that’s really the way the market will grow. WatchGuard as a channel company will continue to look at distribution resources that enables partners to run that type of business. 

 Channels are exploring more of services business and many of them are deploying professional services that includes on site, site surveys, wireless products, and security as a service. Offering firewall in managed services model in a true operational expense mode is really the future of enterprise IT including security domain. Nobody wants to own the hardware anymore as they seek a single monthly price for hardware service and management. We are close to that model today and we intent to get better at it throughout 2018.

 We would still see a fair amount of hardware gateway based firewall appliances deployed with multiple virtual and cloud solutions with a layered security approach to which we have been a proponent for many years.

 How has your channel ecosystem of firewall / NGFW / UTM changed as WatchGuard’s DNA hinges around network security appliances?

 We have really seen the line between firewall, NGFW, and UTM get blurred where a UTM solution has become the standard in gateway security. Our channel has been very effective over the years with UTM messaging and our basic security suite or UTM suite accounts for the bulk of our sales. We continue to expand on that core suite of security services offering more advanced technology like sandboxing, threat intelligence, and DLP. These are traditionally more enterprise level technologies that we have made accessible to the small and medium business customers or organizations.

 What is the global GTM for an optimized, effective and spread-out ecosystem to create an equilibrium for both channels — age-old and born-in-the-cloud?

This is really an exciting time as both product offerings and distribution models are evolving to meet the market demands. The blend and balance are really driven by the product. With our primary business currently being a hardware based solution, we will always have one foot in the classic distribution model.

 However, as we continue to innovate and bring new security services to the hardware firewall, we are looking at ways that we can deliver those features using the convenience of cloud delivery. We are also working on a new MSSP program that will be fulfilled via a hybrid model that will enable partners and end users to take full advantage of an opex consumption model.

 And how serious is the new competition from Palo Alto Networks, FireEye to name a few amidst hordes of security startups. Why do you believe your loyal channels will stick with WatchGuard and new ones will find you compelling enough to align with?

 Of course, it all starts with great technology that partners can build a business around. Then we move in to the business side of things. WatchGuard is a 100% channel sales company. Most of our competitors are not able to say that as they have a mixed sales model.

 Our partners are loyal to us because they know they will never be pushed out of an opportunity they have put together. That’s also a very compelling notion when talking to new partners as well.

 We continue to stay relevant to the channel with innovative products and programs that enable them. We have also refreshed our marketing and branding strategy. Overall, the channel strategy is quite similar globally for WatchGuard as we are completely reliant on our channel partners to support that business. All our programs are designed to enable a channel ecosystem and we keep that in mind when we develop new products.

 There’s frequent ‘change of hands’ in network security with SonicWALL as independent entity, Sophos acquiring Astaro and Cyberoam, McAfee exiting firewall. Is this confusing or good for the disty channel?

 For the disty channel, it is not necessarily confusing or good. That’s just the business we are in today and we just have to deal with the MA, consolidation. Our distributors need to continue to look for manufacturer that offers best-in-class solution that supports disty model and channel. Whether that’s the company which was traditionally good and acquired new companies on the way or they acquired a new company or start up, it is the relationship, trust and support that drives the channel business for technology OEMs.

 Our distributors expect innovative products, programs, and support from their vendors, including WatchGuard. In return, we rely on distribution for the classic pick, pack, and ship, but also their knowledge of the local market, partner enablement and recruitment.

 There was firewall, next gen firewall and there’s another jargon coming up maybe ‘next next gen firewall’ on the cards. Your take?

 I believe most of these terms are laden with a bit of marketing spin. The lines between firewall, NGFW and UTM has really been blurred in past few years. The importance of NGFW concept comes with a premise that it executes multiple security services with key deliverables of ease of use, simplicity and adept to modern threats. NGFW, Multi-threat are marketing jargons; but as long as the security products and services are deployed successfully and CISOs feel safe, it is all good for the industry’s popular nomenclature of products or product categories.

 Randy’s golden rules for security channel ecosystem to prosper amidst a fast changing landscape?

 The biggest challenge for resellers and channel partners is the differentiation factor they need to bring in for their customers because IT market has become commoditized and the products are easily attainable. The channels have a tough job to diffentiate themselves from the online resources or the source with limited product knowledge to product. Hence staying in touch with the client becomes all the more crucial. A VAR or SI needs to stay in touch after the sale and inject themselves into that customer’s business. Partners need to stay relevant with new business models and they have to be more visible as a trusted advisor to their customers.

 The security threat landscape changes daily and it can cause a lot of anxiety for channel business owners. We find that our best partners are taking advantage of social media and marketing automation to keep their clients updated on new threats and how to stay protected. This creates a familiar and trusted relationship resulting in continued business for the channel to survive and thrive in the security market.


  1. Be more visible and stay in constant touch with the client with new business models.
  2. Leverage social media and marketing automation to update clients on new threats.
  3. Stay relevant as a trusted security advisor for continued business with the client.
  4. Layer the hardware security appliance with services to add that differentiation factor.

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