Network Associates opens consulting group

Network security company Network Associates (NAI) has created a new professional services group to offer consulting and educational services to its customers, the company said Tuesday.

Network Associates Expert Services will specialize in helping companies address networking and security-related issues and will offer courses on using NAI products, according to a company statement.

The announcement marks a shift in the company's business plan from a product-focused model centered on network and security products such as Sniffer Technologies and McAfee antivirus to a model that blends products and services into customized business solutions.

''Network Associates is clearly shedding its old skin and trying to grow a new skin as a security company," said Pete Lindstrom, research director at Spire Security.

Under the banner of Expert Network Services, NAI is offering a variety of packaged and custom consulting services. Depending on their needs, customers can hire NAI consultants for on-site or remote analysis of a set number of network segments, according to information posted on NAI's Web site.

In addition, the company is offering "jump start" services in which Network Associates consultants help a customer's IT staff deploy and configure NAI products such as Sniffer Distributed appliances, nPO Manager and nPO Visualizer or help integrate third-party products into customer networks.

As part of its Expert Security Services, NAI is offering antivirus screening and policy audits, gap and risk analysis, penetration testing and wireless security assessment. That program also provides jump-start services for the NAI antivirus product line, including ePolicy Orchestrator, GroupShield, WebShield e500 appliance and McAfee Desktop Firewall products, according to the company's Web site.

The company is offering emergency response services that provide customers with assistance to overcome network outages, security breaches and virus outbreaks. Customers can also contract with Network Associates to provide customized network and security consulting services apart from their packaged offerings.

Wrapped into the new Expert Services group is NAI's existing training organization, which offers courses and certificate programs through McAfee University and Sniffer University. NAI calls the educational component of the new group Expert Educational Services, according to the statement. It was not clear if there would be any changes to the company's educational offerings as part of the new services.

The move is a natural outgrowth of the company's Sniffer network monitoring product and a growing expertise in areas such as intrusion detection and protocol analysis, in addition to its traditional strengths in desktop antivirus prevention, according to Lindstrom.

"They have a team of folks who understand protocols as well -- analyzing network based protocols for security purposes. There's a dearth of know-how about this, and the skills are weak inside companies to be able to handle that type of environment. So its a nice fit for a professional services organization," Lindstrom said.

The new group brings Network Associates in line with competitors such as Symantec Corp., which also offers consulting services to its customers, but Lindstrom cautions that it may be a while before NAI sees any profits from its new services group.

"It's fairly simple to put together a professional services organization. It's not so simple to generate revenue, " Lindstrom said.

So, while the flagging economy should make it easier to pick up talent, NAI will have to press hard on its existing customer base to sign up for their new services while also taking new customers away from established players such as Electronic Data Systems Corp. and Hewlett Packard Co.

"(NAI's) intent here is to ensure their name stays at the forefront of the security space. It's not an easy sell, though. Selling professional services is a hard business. Lots of people talk about how important security is, but then decide that they can do it themselves," Lindstrom said.

Lindstrom says to watch for NAI to work with companies such as Internet Security Systems Inc. and Secure Computing Corp. to bring expertise in threat management and firewall technology to the table.

A purchase of established managed services companies might also be in the offing within the next year, according to Lindstrom.

Even with partners, however, NAI will need time to get their professional services business up and running.

"They must be willing to wait it out. If they have high expectations for profits in the short term, they're going to be disappointed."

No price information for the new consulting services was available. Network Associates Inc., based in Santa Clara, California, could not immediately be reached for comment.

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