Not long ago, I wrote of Check Point Software’s unusual appliance strategy. While a lot of their sales were on partners’ Type 1 appliances – custom boxes with standard parts — the only appliances they sold themselves were Type 2 – software-only.
However, that turns out to be wrong in two interesting ways. First, it was slightly incorrect all along; Check Point’s “Edge” product line has been Type 1 for almost five years. Second and more important, a few weeks ago Check Point announced that it was finally entering the Type 1 appliance mainstream market itself.
“Edge” products almost don’t count; they’re limited-functionality perimeter devices that only work well if managed and strengthened by bigger Check Point deployments at remote locations. But the new Check Point UTM-1 appliances absolutely compete head-on with Juniper (nee’ Netscreen) and other mainstream firewall – excuse me, “unified threat management” — appliance vendors.
Check Point says its motivation for introducing physical appliances is their ease-of-deployment benefit. That sounds right to me. The primary other alternative would be performance, and that’s not what’s going on. While custom-manufactured, these Intel-based boxes seem to be quite generic, with the biggest non-standard aspect being the number of high-speed Ethernet ports. (Configurations vary among three models, targeted at 100- to 1000-user installations.)
So how does this affect Nokia and Crossbeam, Check Point’s two most important hardware partners? At the moment, it hardly affects them at all; they sell to a higher-end market than is served by these new appliances. Longer-term, it’s harder to say.
Technically, Crossbeam isn’t dependent on Check Point at all. But in practice, Crossbeam would be in a world of hurt should Check Point decide to compete directly. On the other hand, it’s not at all obvious that there are enough hardware margins to make it worthwhile for Check Point to turn against its partners. As for software – well, “unified threat management” is impressive in either its unification or its management. There’s a ways to go before we’ll know whether Crossbeam’s “best of breed” software mix will outdo Check Point’s “unified”-but-actually-involving-multiple-partners own umbrella offering.