Rival offers discount to SonicWall users miffed by glitch

Astaro looks to lure customers disgruntled by temporary loss of security protections

Just three days after a license server glitch at SonicWall temporarily knocked out e-mail and Web firewall protections for some of its users, rival Astaro is looking to cash on the customer angst caused by the incident.

Starting Friday, Astaro is offering a 50 percent discount to SonicWall customers who switch to its products. The "Sonic Switch" promotion, which was announced Thursday, is slated to run through the end of January and applies to all of Astaro's security appliances.

Astaro is a maker of a so-called unified threat management devices that combine network, Web access and e-mail security functions into one box. Like SonicWall, Astaro sells mainly into the small and midsize business markets; most of their customers have between 50 and 500 users, although both vendors sell products to larger companies as well.

Angelo Comazzetto, a product manager at Astaro, said the trade-in promotion is designed to tap into the disgruntlement that the license server glitch caused among SonicWall users. "We are trying to capitalize on the customer sentiment," he said.

The 50 percent discount off list price can be had on all of Astaro's hardware and software, plus its maintenance contracts, Comazzetto said. In addition, Astaro will honor the existing support contracts of SonicWall customers to ensure that the users don't lose any money in the deal.

A technical problem in one of SonicWall's license servers left many of its customers unprotected against spam, phishing and malware threats for several hours on Tuesday, while other users were unable to log into their own systems.

SonicWall officials said that the server "malfunctioned," leading it to reset the license keys for products installed on customer systems. That made the licenses appear to be invalid, requiring users to resynchronize them with the vendor's license management system after the glitch was resolved.

The incident prompted numerous customers to post angry messages on a support forum maintained on SonicWall's Web site. (The forum can be accessed from the company's main customer support page but requires registration.) Several of the postings expressed frustration at the fact that a problem with a license server had managed to take down essential security services for customers with fully valid licenses.

An IT security administrator, who asked not to be identified, said Friday that his organization won't renew its contract with SonicWall, worth more than US$50,000, at least partly as a result of the server glitch.

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"I do see a lot of their customers jumping ship over issues like this," the admin said. He added that there are "a dozen different ways" for vendors to license products without resorting to the "Draconian" real-time license-validation scheme that SonicWall has adopted. The company's use of a remote-kill feature to shut down security services on customer systems is "completely unacceptable," said the admin, who described Astaro's 50 percent discount as interesting but didn't say if his organization would take advantage of the promotion.

SonicWall officials didn't respond to a request for comment on Astaro's trade-in offer before this story was posted.

Comazzetto said Astaro had received three inquiries from SonicWall users as of this morning, one of which appeared to be from a fairly large customer.

This is the second such promotional campaign that Astaro has launched this year. In June, it announced a trade-in program with a 20 percent discount for users of Cisco Systems's PIX security appliance products -- an offer that followed Cisco's announcement earlier this year that it was discontinuing sales of the popular firewall line effective July 28.