Symantec buys VeriSign and turns from magpie into chameleon
I tend to see all interesting tech companies as animals. Symantec has always struck me as a common magpie, swooping on choice companies its needs to build into a weatherproof nest. It’s a model that has built many of the larger tech outfits...
It’s a model that has built many of the larger tech outfits that emerged in the last two decades. Now, on the face of it, the magpie has been at work with the Verisign buy.
This is some magpie.
Going back into the 1990s it bought Central Point to boost its nascent antivirus products, later adding Quarterdeck for utilities, On technology and Brightmail for pieces of security such as anti-spam, before pouring billions into getting Veritas for serious business applications in 2005.
IM protection turned up with IMlogic, and yet more antivirus know-how with PC Tools in 2008, while it got MessageLabs for SaaS messaging filtering in the same year, culminating with PGP Corporation for encryption in 2010.
Perhaps the acquisition of Verisign's security wing is another magpie act but it looks more like the work of a chameleon if you stand back. This time, Symantec doesn’t just want to be bigger but different.
It needs to do something, stuck as it is between being a big small company and being a small big company. According to one analysis I recently read of its quarterly results for Q110, Symantec is now rather reliant on its consumer security business and that’s despite having plodded away at business security for years.
In the storage and server management market, it has continued to decline and is making less headway in SMBs than are its rivals. Meanwhile, Sun’s acquisition by Oracle has lost it a lucrative license partner, and even smaller events such as Microsoft giving away quite serviceable consumer antivirus software for nothing look ominous.
What is Verisign's security arm? A company that generates plenty of profit but relatively modest growth, but which can perhaps also help Symantec bridge its way out of the rut of home security software and business services.
With its hand on the SSL certificate business that underpins the whole of ecommerce, Verisign doesn’t exactly have to flutter its eyelids and that’s before the magic words ‘cloud security’ get uttered.
Verisign could be just the brand for the new generation of security products Symantec has been on the hunt for since it blew wads of money on Veritas, and that would affect the deeper change it has longed for. Security is becoming not only commoditised but dirt cheap or free. The cloud is one place where that rule won’t apply for some time to come.
Symantec will always be a security company but perhaps a different-coloured one.