Symantec To Strengthen NAC Strategy Through Altiris Acquisition

Symantec can now either profit from Altiris' relationship with Cisco or take away Cisco's access to Altiris software.
Symantec said Monday it plans to add a key component to its Network Access Control technology through a proposed $830 million acquisition of Altiris, a maker of software for managing of PCs, servers, handheld devices, and other endpoints trying to connect into corporate networks. The ability to keep infected devices from penetrating network defenses is a key component of Symantec's NAC strategy.

In a deal that rivals in size Cisco's $830 million bid for IronPort, Altiris' technology will fit in nicely with Symantec's NAC strategy, which faces stiff competition from a number of high-profile IT vendors, including Cisco and Microsoft, that have designs on the security market's access-control segment.

If all goes well, the deal between Symantec and Altiris will be sealed by the middle of the year. "The best protection must be complemented by the ability to remediate and address vulnerabilities that could be exploited," Symantec chairman and CEO John Thompson said in a statement. It was Symantec's October 2005 acquisition of Sygate Technologies that gave Symantec a big push into the emerging NAC market.

Altiris, which next week plans to announce fourth-quarter 2006 revenue of between $57 million to $61 million and calendar 2006 revenue of between $226 million to $230 million, has in the past worked with the likes of Cisco, promoting the combination of Altiris Quarantine Solution software with Cisco's Network Admission Control framework to help companies develop and enforce network access policies. Symantec's deal for Altiris is strategic in that Symantec can now either profit from the relationship with Cisco or take away Cisco's access to Altiris software.

Old enemies quickly patch up their differences when market opportunities such as NAC technology arrive. Altiris and Symantec insist they've been on cordial terms ever since they settled potential patent litigation back in May 2005 by agreeing to cross-license technologies. While Symantec also agreed to pay Altiris a $10 million fee for the use of disputed patented technology in any of Symantec's products, most details of the case, which started in 1999, have remained confidential.

Symantec is looking for a boost, after last week announcing fiscal third-quarter 2007 earnings of $248 million, down from $282 million in the same quarter the year before. Net income, however, was $114 million, up 25% year-to-year. The results came after Symantec announced it wouldn't meet earlier third-quarter forecasts, saying then that net income would come in at 10 cents to 11 cents per share, down from previous forecasts of between 14 cents and 15 cents. At the time, CEO John Thompson blamed the shortfall on weak performance from the company's Veritas group and a shift by more enterprises to long-term maintenance contracts. Of course, Veritas represents another large Symantec acquisition, one that cost the company about $13.5 billion in July 2005.

Symantec wasn't the only security vendor on Monday announcing plans to spend money. Managed security service provider Perimeter eSecurity, formerly known as Perimeter Internetworking, will buy fellow managed security services provider Message Secure, the ninth company Perimeter has bought in the past three years. Message Secure adds its PrivateExpress secure e-mail services to Perimeter's network security services.

Both moves signal customers' increasing insistence that their security vendors cover them more comprehensively, as any chink in their security armor is likely to have seriously negative implications for their networks and data.