Dell's announcement this week that it plans to buy SecureWorks was not big news in the world markets. After all, the 10-year-old Atlanta online security specialist is just a niche player to Wall Street and its international counterparts.
But that niche includes 2,900 clients worldwide, including more than 1,500 credit unions and community banks across the United States.
From the macro view, the SecureWorks purchase-for an undisclosed price-looks like just another move by the Texas computer giant to diversify from hardware into the brave new world of cloud computing, and pales in comparison with its recent $820 million purchase of storage-specialist Compellent Technologies.
But industry insiders say it could have an impact among credit unions, which traditionally expect a relatively intimate relationship with their tech vendors, vendors attuned to the limitations of scale and not-for-profit philosophy of that space.
One CU security veteran put it this way: "SecureWorks has, historically, provided a quality service because of their knowledge and involvement in the industry," says Kelly Dowell, founding director of the Credit Union Information Security Professionals Association in Austin, Texas. "Whether or not that will be sustainable under the umbrella of Dell is unknown at this point. If the sales directive is to pursue all of Dell's corporate clients, the industry-specific benefits of their services may begin to fade."
A contrasting view comes from Tim Daley, a senior consultant at Cornerstone Advisors, the Gonzo Banker people in Scottsdale, Ariz. Daley has a more commoditized view of the security offerings that credit unions and community banks rely on companies like SecureWorks to provide.
"The need for the types of products that SecureWorks offers-IT security, intrusion detection, access and network monitoring-really isn't specific to any one industry," Daley says. Anything the company does must be in regulatory compliance and help its clients do the same, he adds. "I don't see SecureWorks losing that focus."
Julie Conroy McNelley, senior risk and fraud analyst for the Aite Group in Boston, agrees with the commoditization point but also sees some key differences. "A managed services company is very different from a hardware company. You're not just selling something and walking away from it," she says. "You're responsible for training and servicing and the value add and keeping customers happy and compliant."
She says the model of outsourcing key parts of that relationship to less-expensive labor markets such as India and China may not be an immediate option here. "You have the expertise of security officials that help oversee the infrastructure and have the experience to see when something's abnormal. That's a high-skilled position," McNelley says. "The human touch really is critical for success in this environment. I would be concerned at my credit union that that high touch might be an element that would suffer in a right-sizing and efficiency drive."
Daley at Cornerstone Advisors, who says he sees SecureWorks used at many of the institutions where he consults, says only time will tell. "As to how major a player they will be in the future, that will depend on if an integration into Dell's corporate culture occurs and how successful that integration is. In talking with my colleague here, Quintin Sykes, we see Dell trying to stem the loss of hardware sales to competitors like HP and Lenovo by coupling hardware sales with widely used security services software."
As for the company itself and its new owners, the initial announcement included some assurances. "We look forward to welcoming SecureWorks team members-who bring their passion and dedication to serving clients with best-in-class security services-to Dell and our clients," said Peter Altabef, president of Dell Services.
SecureWorks CEO Michael Cote said, "With Dell's commitment to our clients, our team and our market, I am confident that SecureWorks will flourish as part of the Dell Services organization and that our clients will continue to be well-served and well-protected by the services on which they rely."
Cote also said, "Dell's global scale and relationships with clients provides a tremendous opportunity
to rapidly expand SecureWorks' business."