Microsoft Antivirus Growth Is a Channel Liberator

Microsoft is now the global and North America endpoint security leader, as its Security Essentials suite has overtaken every major vendor’s comparable product in market share. While no security vendor is happy being overshadowed, they say this changing of the guard is an opportunity for solution providers to focus on delivering advanced, quality security products.

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Microsoft Corp. is officially the endpoint security site market leader. According to research group Opswat, Microsoft Security Essentials has the fastest growing, largest group of active users and the second largest install base in the endpoint market.

For security vendors and their channel partners, Microsoft’s emergence as a security market leader is both disconcerting and liberating. While Microsoft is undercutting a once-lucrative product segment, it’s freeing security dealers to focus on more advanced, profitable technologies.

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“[Microsoft’s growth] is something to be aware of, as with all competition,” says Chris Doggett, vice president of channel sales, North America, at Kaspersky Lab ZAO. “It’s a call for partners to focus on recommending products and solutions that meet the needs of their customers best, as opposed to simply the top ranked product for a particular feature or benefit.”

The Opswat study, conducted prior to the release of Windows 8, finds Microsoft Security Essentials holds a worldwide market share of 16.8 percent. Microsoft takes a back seat only to Avast, the open-source antivirus software package, but is expanding market share at a faster rate than any other vendor or provider.

The research sample is dominated by consumer endpoints, whose users are the most price-sensitive to the costs of security software acquisition and ongoing maintenance and support. However, the sample represents a significant number of small businesses, which buy the most security suites as a single purchase and primary threat protection.

Microsoft’s North America share is an astounding 32 percent, trouncing the next highest antivirus and software suite vendor, Symantec Corp.,  by 2 to 1. More impressive is Microsoft’s expanding share, which grew 10 percent in the last six months. By comparison, Symantec's share grew just .6 percent, while all other major security vendors -- McAfee Inc., Trend Micro Inc., Kaspersky and AVG Technologies -- saw slight market share declines.

While Microsoft hasn't fared well in lab tests of its security software, it has benefited from the most essential element to end users: price. The suite of antivirus, antispam and firewall is free to most consumer and small business users. Windows 8 included embedded antivirus protection, which will further expand Microsoft’s market share gains.

Security vendors have watched Microsoft steadily march into the antivirus market since 2005, when it bought Sybari and Giant, two small antimalware security vendors that became the underpinnings of its Security Essentials suite. Many security vendors dismissed Microsoft’s ability to penetrate the security market; until that point, Microsoft was the source of security problems with its vulnerability-laden software.

Microsoft’s progression in developing and improving Security Essentials is matched by it creating market appeal through low-priced professional packages and free consumer offerings. In the past two years, security vendors have been concerned about what Microsoft’s security expansion would do to the foundations of their software business.

Security vendors see Microsoft’s ascension as an opportunity for solution providers to refocus their customer engagements, service delivery and value proposition around effectiveness and return on security investment. Rather than selling or competing on price, as "free" is the most difficult price to compete with, vendors say solution providers should talk about manageability, advanced security features, performance and reliability, and effective risk management.

“The channel has an opportunity to educate on this topic when Microsoft Security Essentials or any free unmanaged solution is found installed during an initial audit,” says Luke Walling, vice president of sales and operations at AVG North America. “The risks of unmanaged security run far and wide.  Those businesses that follow the unmanaged free route are often plagued with a plethora of risks and related problems.”

No security vendor wants to see antivirus market share or revenue eroded by an upstart free offering. Nevertheless, the antivirus market isn't the cash generator it used to be. The major security vendors -- Symantec, McAfee and Trend Micro -- have shifted focus to advanced security such as encryption, data loss prevention, intrusion prevention and mobile security. These technologies are more complex, meaning they have more professional, managed and ongoing support needs -- and this makes them more lucrative.

Conceding the antivirus market to Microsoft isn’t something any security vendor will agree to, but some see the wisdom in focusing broader and wider in other security technologies, and are encouraging security solution providers to follow suit.

“Security partners need to do both, but they definitely should be focusing on more advanced technologies,” says Fernando Quintero, vice president of channel sales and operations for the Americas at McAfee.

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