On the very day Watchguard decided to trumpet its good worldwide sales figures in the UTM (unified threat management) market, its most important European reseller, Wick Hill, was making very positive noises to journalists about a small French UTM outfit nobody has much heard of before, Netasq.

Netasq is a newcomer to the UK, and doesn’t yet sell in the US at all, so it is a surprise that such a relative unknown can be headlined by a major VAD (value added distributor) such as Wick Hill.

The products being offered by Netasq and Watchguard aren’t exactly equivalent – Netasq’s have the sheen of high performance – but two are overlapping enough to prompt the obvious question. Why does Wick Hill need a French damsel when it is already married to Watchguard?

According to IDC, Watchguard led the UTM sector worldwide in Q2 unit sales in the crucial medium enterprise price bands between $1,000 and $5,000 in value. Sources tell us Watchguard’s European sales have been less impressive, despite signs of a summer upturn, and it is now placed somewhere around 6th in terms of unit sales and 5th in terms of revenue.

UTMs are a class of device being closely watched by analysts and shareholders alike because they are expected to replace the traditional firewall/VPN boxes of today. They will also be popular in the fastest growing segment of the security hardware market, the medium enterprise. Either way, the resellers will be critical to a vendor’s success in UTMs because smaller enterprises need a lot of ongoing support.

The simple answer to all this is that Wick Hill wants to “diversify its risk”, and has found a company that can offer it fresh technology and a good profit margin to make the deal a good one. It is not abandoning Watchguard, after all, even if the US company is right to feel suddenly vulnerable.

A more intriguing interpretation is that the UTM appliance market is far from mature and there will be plenty of surprises ahead. It has looked as if the established US security vendors would wipe the floor with the competition, but the appearance of Netasq, and the resurgence of the UK’s Equiinet, tells us that it might not be so simple in future as far as Europe is concerned.

Watchguard and others will strike back or course, but only by reducing prices or upping performance. For purchasers, this is great news.