Symantec chief talks acquisitions, Cisco's snub

In an interview, Symatec's John Thompson discusses vendor alliances, data-loss prevention technology, and more

Symantec chairman and CEO John Thompson last week delivered a keynote speech to thousands of security professionals at the RSA Conference 2008 in the US. Ellen Messmer caught up with Thompson at the RSA event, where he expanded on a range of topics including vendor alliances, Symantec's competition and the importance of data-loss prevention technology.

Cisco just announced a partnership with EMC's RSA division to make use of the data-loss prevention technology based on Tablus, a company RSA acquired last year. Any comment on that?

It's a little bit ironic. Cisco had a wonderful and profitable relationship with [data-loss prevention vendor] Vontu before we bought them. Cisco was a Vontu reseller. It shows Cisco would rather work with anyone other than Symantec. Cisco has a philosophical point of view that if you compete with me, you can't partner with me.

What's Symantec doing with Vontu, which it acquired last December?

The DLP technology Vontu brings to a company specifically makes policy-based decisions about information flowing over a network, an area important to highly regulated financial services, healthcare providers or the merger and acquisition transactions at a company. The Vontu acquisition was important for us since we will now integrate that policy engine into the storage and network tier in what Symantec researchers internally are calling Project Huggie.

How does the Veritas merger of three years ago look to you today?

We put together our [US]$2.6 billion company with $2 billion Veritas and spent two years fully integrating the two companies. This was not an easy task. We made some mistakes. But the market has proven that our vision was correct.

Why doesn't Symantec acquire an encryption-technology company?

We license encryption technology for implementation in our products. We don't need to own the technology. My view is the real opportunity about encryption is managing the keys that unlock the data.

Any take on virtualization?

The virtual-machine phenomenon is here to stay. At the server level, it's optimizing the hardware resources a lot better. Most are underutilized. You can run more applications on a server. Given that you will virtualize the infrastructure, you'll also virtualize the backup and management. The complexity of the virtual environment goes up quite a bit due to the nature of the applications. The opportunity is around application isolation. You want trusted applications so if something were to occur in one virtual instance, it wouldn't contaminate what was running in another. Everyone in this industry wants to wrap themselves in a 'virtual cloak' as it were.

What do you think of McAfee, often viewed as your rival?

It's a nice little company and they do a nice job. The industry needs competition. But we don't see their portfolio as competing directly with ours. We help customers manage their infrastructures better.

What about Microsoft's entry into antivirus about two years ago?

It's been much ado about nothing. Their results have been fairly abysmal, although Microsoft has done a lot to make Vista a secure operating system. Customers like the concept of diversity. Products like McAfee, Sophos, Panda and more serve as part of the ecosystem.

In past election seasons, you publicly voiced a preference for a particular presidential candidate. Are you doing that for this November's presidential election?

I'm just going to run Symantec. I'd just say a new administration, whatever it is, hopefully realizes the importance of technology for everyone on the planet.

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Ellen Messmer

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