Symantec's exit from the security appliances business seems like a retreat, but the company may deserve more credit than that. In fact, this could be a rare case of Big Yellow being ahead of the curve.
Combining a number of security services into a preconfigured, "plug and play" hardware device certainly makes them easier to deploy, but many datacenters have had enough of this good thing. As IT groups look to VMware, Microsoft, Xen, and other virtualization schemes to shed much of the under-utilized hardware they already have, they need appliances like holes in the head. Symantec may have seen the writing on the virtual wall.
Besides, thanks to virtualization, we've entered an era when you can have your appliance and eat it too. By packaging its security apps in a VMware, Microsoft, or Xen virtual machine, Symantec can remain in the appliances business without being in the hardware business. In a world where you could easily add a firewall, spam filter, or IPS to any Intel or AMD server farm by pushing a ready-to-run software stack through a pipe, Symantec no doubt realizes that it is coming in through the out door.