Private Equity Firm Picks Up Websense, Partners Not Surprised


Websense has been acquired by a private equity firm in a move that channel partners and analysts tell CRN has been a long time in the making as the firm struggled to differentiate itself in a field of data leakage prevention vendors.

Austin, Texas-based private equity firm Vista Equity Partners Monday revealed plans to acquire Websense in a deal valued at more than $900 million. Under terms of the agreement, Websense stockholders will receive $24.75 in cash for each share of Websense common stock they hold. Once the deal is complete, Websense will become a privately held company.

Websense said it expects the transaction to close before the end of the third quarter of 2013. Websense senior management is expected to continue with the company and its headquarters is expected to remain in San Diego.

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Industry analysts said the acquisition should give the company access to an infusion of cash and the ability to be more agile to market conditions. They have called Websense's data leakage prevention platform good at endpoint and data discovery, but not significantly different from other data leakage prevention vendors.

Websense fell behind Symantec, McAfee, Sophos and Dell-owned Credant Technologies for data leakage prevention, said Wendy Nather, research director of the enterprise security practice at 451 Research. Businesses are indicating they will spend more in 2013, but a survey conducted by 451 Research at the end of 2012 found a high percentage of customers indicating the desire to switch from Websense to lower-cost alternatives.

"[Websense's] focus had gone to other areas beyond straight content filtering, but the execution failed to make any real headway in the market," Nather said. "There [are] a lot more compelling offerings out there with application-aware firewalling, sandboxing technologies for advanced threats."

Websense unveiled its Triton security architecture in 2010, combining its Web Security Gateway for content filtering and antimalware protection with its data leakage prevention suite and email security. The company's appliances have been aimed at SMBs, and in the past year Websense has been advocating a hybrid approach with a new line of appliances and its cloud-based Web security gateway. At the core of its technology is its threat intelligence engine for malware protection.

Channel partners say the acquisition has been in the making. Webense had difficulty keeping channel reps in the field, with constant turnover making it a difficult company to work with, said Mark Malizia, chief technology officer of RKON Technologies. Malizia said Websense captured about 80 percent of the market with its content filtering technology and worked on creating a compelling security suite, putting basic data leakage prevention capabilities into a platform. But basic data leakage prevention capabilities added to email security products were a lot cheaper and businesses weren't really buying into a more comprehensive product set, Malizia said.

"We've heard rumors that it was on the block for the last six or eight months," Malizia said. "We've been a longtime partner with them and always had a lot of success with implementations but most people were using it for their content filtering, which was much more expensive than other products."

Another channel partner, who requested anonymity, said his company had been replacing Websense with more robust antimalware and content filtering technologies. Many businesses are standardizing with larger endpoint security vendors or choosing point security products that are cloud-based and don't increase the organization's data center footprint, he said.

In a statement, Robert Smith, CEO and founder of Vista Equity Partners, called Websense a compelling value proposition for businesses. "We look forward to working with the company to enable it to reach its full potential," Smith said.

Vista Equity Partners holds a number of technology companies, but it has not worked with many security vendors. The investment firm acquired Beyond Compliance, a Denver-based firm that sells a Software-as-a-Service compliance and asset management suite, from P2 Energy Solutions in 2011.

PUBLISHED MAY 21, 2013