Fortinet MSSP Program Revamped for Growth

Fortinet is looking beyond its conventional channel model to accelerate sales of its managed security service provider (MSSP) partners by offering a new program that makes its unified threat management appliances more affordable and provides downstream support for market development.

The newly unveiled Fortinet MSSP Partner Program, which already has 20 active MSSPs, provides lower, predictable prices and financing for product acquisition, making the expansion of infrastructure capacity to meet current and future service demands more attainable.

Additionally, the program provides Fortinet MSSPs with support for marketing, sales and product development. The new support mechanisms are intended to help Fortinet partners create new services, receive technical support, develop sales opportunities and expand business.

“Our solutions are highly scalable, allowing providers to start small and grow their business as their customer base grows,” said Stephan Tallent, director of MSSP Americas at Fortinet.

Fortinet is hardly a stranger to the managed security services market. It’s made enabling security services a tenant of its channel program since the mid-2000s, and was among the security hardware vendors to find success by becoming the infrastructure powering MSSPs.

The model takes two forms: equipment is used for building hosted security services, or security appliances are sold and placed in customer environments and managed remotely. The model is used by virtually every security hardware vendor, including Cisco, Dell SonicWall, Sophos (Astaro) and WatchGuard, to name a few.

Providing predictable pricing and financing is a necessity for MSSPs, as they need a reliable means for forecasting costs. As an MSSP adds new customers, it not only needs to maintain current capacity but also ensure they have enough capacity for future expansion. Unpredictability means they have no means for maintaining margin integrity.

Fortinet MSSP Program Changes

Different in the new Fortinet managed services program is the downstream support. Not only does Fortinet want to provide partners with a means for predictable costs, but they want to ensure they will buy new equipment as well. The obvious intent behind the product development, marketing and technical support, along with a bevy of materials for building managed security services businesses, is to stimulate partner growth. The idea is relatively simple: If the MSSP expands sales, they will need to expand capacity, and that means buying more Fortinet equipment.

This is hardly a new idea. Cisco and McAfee have had locked-in pricing for managed service providers for years. Other hardware vendors looking to stimulate cloud sales are looking to work with their service provider partners in developing customer sales that will, indirectly, benefit their own equipment and software sales. IBM, for instances, is doing this with their “managed service providers,” who are essentially hosted application services.

By turning sales, marketing and even channel resources to benefit managed service providers, vendors like Fortinet hope to see a marked uptick in sales created by the expansion of their partners.

It’s a sound theory, but one fraught with problems. Providing such business development resources will undoubtedly help managed service providers grow sales. The trick for a company like Fortinet is ensuring the expansion is robust enough to create large capacity issues that result in volume product sales back to the managed service provider.

Other vendors who have tried this approach continue to wrestle with how much responsibility they have in developing the business of what are essentially their customers. And, make no mistake that a managed service provider is a customer not a partner as it is the consumer of the goods that are used to deliver an independent service to another party. Consider the converse: General Motors would buy more IT equipment if its sales increased; does that mean Cisco, Microsoft and other IT vendors should contribute to GM sales and marketing?