Downplaying Dell: SonicWALL cuts independent course at PEAK16

SonicWALL’s PEAK16 event in Last Vegas is still, technically, a Dell event. You would hardly know that from the event itself however, as the soon-to-be-independent company flexes its independence some months before the fact.

Dell can

The most visible Dell branding at the Dell Security event

LAS VEGAS — “Who loves SonicWALL?”

That was the question that Curtis Hutcheson, whose business card still reads VP and GM of Dell Security Solutions, posted to the audience at the beginning of his keynote at PEAK16 here on Monday. The roar of approval from the audience indicated that indeed, they do love SonicWALL.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t love Dell. But it was abundantly clear here on the first day of the event that the company-in-waiting has made a clear and conscious decision to play up the SonicWALL brand, and de-emphasize their steward of the last four years.

This is technically a Dell SonicWALL event. Dell dutifully issued two press releases on the first day of the event proclaiming that fact around the news announcements. At the actual event, Dell’s logo and name are almost nowhere to be found though.

Let’s start with the attendee badges. Plenty of reps from the soon to be new company were present. All were badged as SonicWALL. Dell didn’t even make it to the fine print

The slides presented in the keynotes did have their obligatory short line at the bottom of each declaring them to be Dell property. But the slides themselves talked of nothing but SonicWALL. The Dell name and logo was starkly absent from the conference bunting. One of the sponsors Dell event sign(right) seemed not to have gotten the word. The others seemed to have forgotten who they wrote their sponsorship cheque to.

Michael Dell is in town. But he’s two miles down the road at VMworld, where he is the unquestioned star of the show. No sign of him so far here, and if he shows up, it would be a great surprise.

Indeed, the most visible sign of the Dell brand at the ostensibly Dell event logo was on the blue cans of water that were ubiquitous all around the event. It seemed, however, that someone simply made a mistake putting the old brand on.

‘That’s the last time we will be using that,” grumbled one of the staffers handling the logistical side of the event.

A good case can be made that the decision to de-emphasize the Dell brand came from the executives’ assessment of their partners’ sentiment. One metric that they used themselves in their presentations recorded that 35 of 35 VARs asked said that SonicWALL being independent would be a huge plus. Yikes! Several long-time U.S.-based SonicWALL partners told ChannelBuzz with glee that they rued the day when Dell bought them and had chafed under their control. They were positively thrilled with the move to independence.

Hutcheson, who despite not being an old SonicWALL guy, will be changing companies to lead the new firm, addressed this sentiment in his keynote.

“The VAR base has been held back a little [as part of Dell],” Hutcheson told partners. “There have been some conflicts. You have some wounds. Selling in the field hasn’t been as easy as if we were an independent company. That is about to change!”

Dell, of course, isn’t sliding off into the sunset. It will continue to resell SonicWALL products under an OEM agreement. Hutcheson said that this should give SonicWALL partners more control over the relationship and free them from the sometimes fractious jousting with Dell over ownership of the customer, which even when the partner prevailed cost them time and resources.

“You will still get to leverage Dell relations through an OEM agreement — if you would like to use it,” Hutcheson said. “There should be no concerns with interference with your deals.”

That’s good news for what appears to be the minority of SonicWALL partners who have good relations with Dell’s internal sales team, and has leveraged their contacts successfully.

Dell fans

Dell Fans. Epp (L) and Selod (R) of Toronto’s Eastbay IT Consulting, which has leveraged Dell very successfully in selling SonicWALL firewalls

“We have a close relationship with Dell, because they have the contacts to go after the whales of the world,” said Dieter Epp, Director IT Services at Toronto-based Eastbay IT Consulting. “We had been going after smaller markets and through Dell, we now find we can play with the big boys. We work very well with Dell, and we just sell Dell hardware.””

Eastbay won the SonicWALL Innovation Partner of the Year award at the show, in part because they sold seven SuperMassives in one quarter — more than the rest of Canada combined.

“We’ve built enough clout with Dell and SonicWALL to go after the SuperMassives,” said Farhan Selod. Eastbay’s technical lead. “We still have more in the pipeline.”

SonicWALL partners who have little use for Dell can now take some comfort in knowing Dell has much the same role as CDW to many vendors – a very powerful large reseller who is heartily disliked by many traditional solution providers. Vendors, however, love such partners. For that reason, while SonicWALL is moving ahead by de-emphasizing Dell, Dell will continue to cast a very long shadow over the company.