Strategy Session: Network General: Duck or Phoenix?

Having languished for several years as part of Network Associates, Network General attempts a comeback with "Fusion." But can the company overcome its "bad marriage" and win back customers, both

Art Wittmann

September 29, 2006

2 Min Read
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This issue's lead rollout is on Network General's new Network Intelligence Suite, internally known as "Fusion". The suite is the integration of NetVigil and Visualizer. I visited Network General a few weeks ago and, having been a Sniffer user many years ago, I was eager to learn how the company planned to compete in today's one-device, one-switch-port world.

For those of you who may not remember, Network General was purchased by McAfee a number of years back, and the joint company was renamed Network Associates. A marriage made in heaven it was not. McAfee primarily sold to desktop administrators while Network General's customers were mostly network admins. The virus and malware threat was on its way up, and the utility of expensive network analyzers was on its way down. The increasingly switched nature of networks and pressure from freely available tools like Ethereal meant tough going for all things Sniffer.

As a result, Network General's products largely languished as part of the Network Associates family. Network General's current management team refers to this period as a "seven-year hiatus." Just over two years ago, Silverlake Partners led a team of investors who pried Network General free of McAfee. Many of us who watch this have been curious to learn what Silverlake sees that none of us does.

The answer came in February when Network General bought NetVigil, a performance-monitoring tool. The new product is primarily integrated at the user interface level. In fact, during a demo, I was told when we were "in Visualizer" rather than "in NetVigil." Not terribly unexpected, given that the company has had just six months to achieve the integration.Still, the result is interesting. The integrated tool can track a performance problem back to its root--if the root is in either network congestion or protocol problems. So, should we view Network General as a phoenix rising from the ashes of that bad marriage, or a hapless duck rising from a lake in the late fall mist while hunters await?

Right now, I think it's more duck than phoenix. Network General is a challenged brand; its core customers felt abandoned, and the new customers it badly needs probably don't see the company as a source for strategic business service-management tools. It'll take time and a lot of good marketing to change that.

Art Wittmann is editor in chief of Network Computing. Write to him at [email protected].

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