One year on from Symantec’s acquisition of MessageLabs, CBR talks to ex-CEO Adrian Chamberlain about how the integration has gone and what the future holds for the firm in its new role as Symantec Hosted Services.
Q. How has the year of integration into Symantec gone?
A. It’s gone pretty well. The history of SaaS companies being acquired by licensed software appliance companies has been chequered and ours has gone pretty successfully compared to most. I think that’s because of Symantec observing the mistakes of previous acquisitions and thinking very hard about the due diligence process.
Symantec is an acquisitive company and typically after an acquisition you strip out the sales, operations and integrate R&D and technical from there. Apart from back-office, we didn’t do that at all; most of the company is still intact so is recognisable as MessageLabs, most of the ex-management is still there.
Q. What do you think Symantec saw in MessageLabs?
A. There was massive consolidation going on in the market and they saw that SaaS, which people weren’t too sure about three or four years ago, was growing. There are some advantages over traditional licensed software and they saw a major shift in the market towards it. Symantec was the market leader in both appliances and licensed software it was natural that they wanted to be market leader in hosted as well, to be able offer their clients the complete gamut of services. In that respect, MessageLabs was the market leader.
Q. Is cloud-based security [as offered by Symantec Hosted Services] any different from a more traditional, on-premise, security approach?
A. It can make it a lot easier. You are constantly evolving the heuristics to score threats, meaning you can stop in real-time not only acknowledged or understood viruses and malware but also stop malware based on the basic characteristics that malware has. It also means stopping it as far away from the desktop as possible. It’s just a more flexible and additional layer of protection.
When you then combine that with predictable pricing, the remote updates and bandwidth benefits of filtering out 80% of your traffic before it gets to you, it’s much less for the business to worry about. It’s a compelling proposition.
Q. But cloud/SaaS still has a long way to go before it is widespread throughout the enterprise. There are still concerns about security, for example.
A. It has a huge way to go and I think there is a huge debate about how far it will actually go. It’s almost becoming slightly overhyped and I’d be surprised if it ever totally dislodges more accepted forms of software licensing.
In terms of the security of cloud computing, I think that argument or concern is pretty much dead. In advanced economies, such as the UK, US and Australia, we and our rivals have customers from some of the biggest and most sensitive blue chip operations in the world, including most of the leading banks. We subject to rigorous audit and we’ve been completely secure over the lifetime of our existence.
Q. What does the future hold for MessageLabs?
A. Increasingly you’ll see us working with other parts of Symantec like Vontu, who can identify the on-premise threat while we offer the capability in the cloud. It’s a hybrid of cloud-based, on-premise security. There are limitations to each form factor but if you hybridise the two you get the best of both worlds.
In terms of what we’re doing, we are building this new strategy on three planks. We’re developing a new generation of universal interface, which enables you to set policy once and have a much clearer understanding of the threats. We’re also developing a new architecture of a single policy, single authentication capability. Finally we’re working with other parts of Symantec to offer the hybrid solutions.
Q. Where do you think MessageLabs would be now if it hadn’t been acquired by Symantec?
A. It’s always difficult giving up your independence and from a personal level it was fun being a successful independent company in a global world. What you’re seeing is inevitable consolidation – all the independent hosted companies have gone, Postini to Google, MX Logic went to McAfee – and I think in terms of the advantages of being part of a bigger company with deeper resources you can accelerate growth and develop bigger distribution channels and new products.
I think we got the best of both worlds. We’ve still got a distinct model but with bigger resources behind us, which is particularly important in a downturn. So I think we’re in a better place, but I also think that had we stayed independent we would have been fine although our ambitions would have been more limited and I think we’d be feeling more pressure from some of the integrated competitors. We’re better off with Symantec than without it.