SonicWALL leader Hutcheson lays out strategy going forward

The new SonicWALL will see big changes and small ones. The big changes are in how the company does business as it untangles from Dell, and it’s a process that they began well before the company was even sold. On the other hand, the new SonicWALL won’t be making significant shifts from its core markets, and partner base.

Curtis Hutcheson Leans Left 300

Curtis Hutcheson, VP and GM, Dell SonicWALL

LAS VEGAS — SonicWALL is still a couple months away from officially leaving the Dell nest and heading out on its own. The company’s strategy going forward is in place, however. It does involve significant changes to the way things are done, to make things more efficient. The core objective is not significantly changed though. While sales upmarket are always a good thing, the focus will remain solidly on SonicWALL’s classic SMB space. Its traditional partner base, which is heavily overweight with smaller partners, will continue to be the go-to-market driver going forward as well.

While several of the top executives in the new SonicWALL were also top dogs in the old SonicWALL, Curtis Hutcheson, who runs the organization, is not one of them. He spent much of his career at HP, then moved to BMC before joining Dell in July 2013 – as VP and GM, North America Enterprise Solutions. In May 2015, he was moved to the top security role at Dell, and at that stage, even before EMC was acquired, he said that spinning off SonicWALL was already on the table.

“From Day One, when I was interviewed for the job, the idea was to separate the security business, although the model at that time was Dell SecureWorks,” Hutcheson said. “Dell always knew the security business had to be more independent to be successful in the market. The EMC acquisition in October greatly increased the impetus, particularly towards creating a new company.”

Hutcheson said that the sale to Francisco helped accelerate structural changes that had already begun, and were necessary in any event.

“Both SonicWALL and the separate identity management business, which was also sold to Francisco, are great businesses,” he stated. “I checked out the technologies thoroughly when doing my due diligence before taking the position. They both had very good products and very good people. But a lot of things had gone wrong for the businesses. They hadn’t been growing at market rates. So the question was – can someone else come in and get them back to growth. That’s what all of this has really been about.”

Hutcheson said that they decided that many of the integrations done after SonicWALL joined Dell had to be undone.

“We restructured the sales and marketing people, and the go-to-market, and some of the things in the front end that had been done in the interests of Dell software overall,” he said. “For example, the sales force had been integrated into a general software sales force. The marketing organizations had been moved out. We had clearly overintegrated these businesses, and we wanted to bring back the muscles they had before. So we were putting things back in place – a very different thing from joining a startup company.”

This process began long before the sale.

“It has been a lot of work, but we started this 15 months ago,” Hutcheson indicated. “We are bringing back sales to be a dedicated team. We are bringing back marketing out of an integrated engine at Dell. As a result, you will see us move faster than before. This is necessary because we have to get beyond the 10-12 per cent growth we are doing right now.”

The plan is not, however, to secure this growth by fundamentally changing SonicWALL’s focus on the smaller firewall space. It leads the market with 32 per cent share in the $500-1500 space. In contrast, they are only fifth, with a 9 per cent share, in the $1,500-$30,000 space, and only 1.5 per cent of the $30,000 and up market.

The Dell connection clearly didn’t produce significant enterprise gains for SonicWALL, and while Dell will continue to sell SonicWALL into that market through their post-split OEM deal, SonicWALL itself will focus mainly on smaller companies and distributed enterprise

“We are going back to winning in the data centre opportunistically,” Hutcheson said. “We are strong in the distributed enterprise footprint. When someone has 1200 locations, like Arby’s, a recent win for us, they also need things top of rack, and likely a SuperMassive in the datacenter. That’s the main play for us there. Our strategy will be to win in SMB, win in education, win in retail, and win in some enterprise sub-segments.”

Hutcheson said that while selling to mid-market sized customers is an excellent play, large enterprises simply aren’t their market.

“Selling to a bank in Wall Street is very different from our normal motion,” he said. “It takes a different type of partner, and a custom opportunity. We don’t have that ability. We will stick to the edge and to the smaller customer. On the other hand, the market is going to zero touch deployment, to centralized management, and that’s our bread and butter. There’s plenty to sell to in our sweet spot.”

That means that their focus on small partners won’t change.

“Our top partners only make up 30 per cent of our business,” Hutcheson said. “That’s a shocking number. The small VAR is our bread and better.”

Hutcheson said that while SonicWALL might be able to enter into more partnerships with other vendors, it wouldn’t be accurate to infer that being part of Dell limited them there.

“We weren’t held back by Dell as far as that goes,” he said. “That being said, the vendor players in security are specialized, and specialized players do like a focused, independent partner that control its own destiny.”

Ultimately, Hutcheson said that success for an independent SonicWALL will depend on successfully reaching the right buyer.

“Our messaging has to be that it’s not about the 24 things an incumbent has learned to do, and all the complexity they have built into their legacy environments,” he said. “For us, it’s about easy-to-manage and effective security with very fast throughput – and those two don’t often line up. The conversation with the customer needs about to be about what they need to be doing – not what they are doing. Let’s find the right customers who are looking for change.”

Hutcheson also said they need to be louder about their product, and that’s something where being separate will help a lot.

“Everything we communicate will be about us,” he said. “We won’t be going through a filter. It will also be easier for us to make adjacent bets to see more logical progressions of our technology. Capture [the new branding of SonicWALL’s Advanced Persistent Threat Protection Service that was formally announced at PEAK] is very complex technology. We wanted to have this years ago. Every customer needs to have this service. It’s the same with our new Cloud GMS. It’s what we are about.”