Vontu chief touts Symantec deal

Vontu's founder says the DLP company's acquisition by Symantec has not stunted its growth and innovation thanks to merger preconditions

Most often after one of their peers is acquired by a larger competitor, business leaders at rival IT industry startups will harp on the notion that such a buyout kills the momentum and innovation ongoing at the company that has been purchased.

Such has been the case in the DLP (data loss prevention) space since de facto market leader Vontu was acquired by security giant Symantec in November 2007, but roughly 100 days after the deal was finalized, Joseph Ansanelli, the startup's founder and former CEO, claims that the post-buyout integration is moving forward just as he'd planned.

"Acquisitions of this kind are often hard to do, and if you look at the vast majority, most do not succeed -- but there are several key things that you need to get right to make it work, and we feel that we're doing a good job on those things," said Ansanelli, who now wears the title of vice president of DLP Solutions at Symantec.

The key to maintaining Vontu's growth while allowing Symantec to benefit from the technology it acquired -- beyond driving continued sales of the DLP vendor's existing products -- has been to stick to the roadmap agreed upon by the two firms during their deal making, he said.

Reporting directly to Symantec's chief operating officer, Enrique Salem, as part of a group solely focused on DLP, there has been no confusion that Vontu's skills would become lost in a sea of other technologies and companies acquired by Symantec, Ansanelli said.

By remaining true to its pre-acquisition promises not to alter Vontu's internal make-up or technological development plans, there has been none of the employee defection or organizational change that frequently occurs after such a transaction, the executive said.

And according to Symantec's latest survey of existing Vontu customers, he claims, those users interviewed were as satisfied with their level of support around its DLP technologies as they were before the merger.

Even more significant however, said Ansanelli, is the fact that Symantec remains committed to DLP as a major opportunity going forward, both as a standalone technology and as an element of its other security products.

"How we fit into the overall strategy for Symantec is really important, but I think if you look at the types of things [Symantec CEO] John Thompson has said, it's clear that we're a key to the company's long-term vision and that we fit very well into its plans," Ansanelli said. "When we were working on the [buyout] agreement, we talked a lot about the general strategy to integrate the company and made it one of the terms of the deal -- that's been a key to our success with this process."

The most immediate benefit to Vontu's business since the merger has been its ability to tap into Symantec's customer base and to leverage its 4,000-person strong worldwide sales team, he said, with open communication between the new business unit and the parent company serving to accelerate sales.

One of the reasons why Vontu workers haven't jumped ship is because they have seen the commitment of resources around sales, marketing, and development that the industry giant promised as part of its offer, the former CEO contends.

And while some industry watchers, notably Vontu competitors, have speculated that Symantec would "blow up" the startup's technology, and merely parcel it into a number of other products, Ansanelli said that the company remains every bit as committed to selling DLP as a standalone set of tools as it is hopeful of augmenting its other technologies.

"It all goes back to getting that agreement on strategy into the deal," Ansanelli said. "Symantec sees the Vontu Enforce Platform as its core for DLP, yet it also wants all of the different monitoring and prevention, and discovery and data protection we provide to integrate with as many other products as possible."

Over the next 100 days, the executive said that Symantec and Vontu will continue to work on those product innovations while trying to continue to expand sales of the startup's existing technologies.

Industry watchers said that it is too early to determine if the Symantec-Vontu marriage is successful but observed that things appear to be going well for the companies, thus far.

The security market leader is unlikely to alter Vontu's technology or marketing message dramatically as long as the existing products continue to sell, and there should be plenty of opportunities to offer both standalone DLP and a wide array of integrated products, said Rich Mogull, analyst with Securosis.

"The ball is in Symantec's court. It's still too early to say how it will work out, but they've kept the Vontu management team intact, which is a good sign," Mogull said. "I haven't seen anything to show that it isn't going well, but I still want to know where they will be in this process in 12 to 18 months' time."

Regarding the startup's technology, Mogull said that some elements of Vontu's DLP system will likely end up used more heavily in other Symantec products, but he said that the company will have an opportunity to market other pieces as individual tools.

"The sensor points like the desktop agent will likely become throwaways and simply be included in other products, but the core functions of building policies and managing workflow for violations will remain a standalone solution," the analyst said.

"It's important to remember that guys who deal with anti-virus alerts and firewalls policies are very different than types of workflow and violations that people deal with around DLP," said Mogull. "So, even if parts get integrated into other products, the core management product will be there for DLP and will be a good market opportunity."

The analyst said that the strongest remaining independent DLP vendors should have plenty of opportunities to generate revenue and seek potential buyouts, but he contends that Vontu was likely best suited to find a parent with Symantec's massive footprint.

"Anyone who gets the exit they want is lucky these days, but there are still a lot of opportunities in DLP. There will be more mergers and acquisitions, and some standalones that can survive," Mogull said. "But, to go it alone, they will have to grow to do more than DLP as we know it. The DLP of today will eventually go away, but there should be a lot of opportunities around content monitoring and protection."

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