By 2006, Watchguard was the security hardware vendor that nobody loved. Wall Street had grown restless with a pile-up of bad quarters and what appeared to be managerial inertia. Its products weren’t bad, but some in the channel felt they had fallen behind the growing number of rivals in Unified Threat management (UTM), a lucrative category of security appliance invented by IDC.
Last year, the company was taken private by venture capitalists to recover its poise away from the tiresome short-termism of the tyrants waving share certificates. It plotted its comeback. They binned some of the managers, hired new people further down the company, and started to listen to the channel partners that actually shift the boxes, and make the money.
Good for them, you thought. The idea that an IPO turns a company into something that customers love was always a silly fiction. With too many US tech start-ups, it has more to do with hanging out a ‘for merger sale’ sign over a company and keeping the management remunerated with options. Bah.
Now the company has come back, overhauling some of its products, and full of good intentions to do better and to spend more oiling its sales chain. One problem remains, however, and that is just about the simplest one imaginable – understanding which of its products does what.
The hardware product line consists of three broad families, Peak, Core and Edge, the purpose and capabilities of which most people would be able to grasp from the names. However, each of these gets the prefix, ‘Firebox X’, a trademark that signifies the common hardware platform on which all three run, but which blurs the differences by stressing the commonality. So they are the same, but also different? Yes, because Watchguard turns on different features and performance depending on what the customer wants and will pay.
Ok, so what about the other three boxes with the same names, but with the additional prefix, ‘e-Series’? How do these relate, or not, to the boxes without the moniker? Answer: they are identical but happen to be compliant with the RoHS environmental standard, and have now replaced the boxes that don’t have the e-Series tag. Of course, because they have now replaced the old, discontinued models, they will start to be different over time, a process that has already started.
So, prospective buyers – not to mention that channel that sells them – have to wade through three layers of naming here, the family level (which every vendor has), the model distinction (which for Watchguard is bafflingly prolix) and an extra level that tells us the products comply with a worthy directive that few have heard of.
There is also a fourth layer that we’ll forgive them its conventionality – within each family there are also various models. Fancy buying Watchguard? I’ll have an ‘e-Series Firebox X Peak X8500e’ please. To the prospective buyer, glancing at the product table is like looking at a menu in a foreign language. Performance, features, technology all matter but the buying proposition has to be clear to attract new customers.