Cisco executives speaking at the ongoing Security Standard Conference claim that the networking giant hasn't sapped innovation in the security companies it has acquired in its efforts to add to its own expanse of IT systems-defense products, while some customers clearly feel otherwise.
Taking the stage at the conference in Chicago on Monday to participate in a panel on Cisco's vision for warding off emerging threats and spam, the company's top security executives, and former IronPort Chief Executive Scott Weiss, defended the firm's growth-via-acquisition strategy.
Cisco finalized its $830 million buyout of IronPort in June -- only the latest in a long string of such security acquisitions. The company has already begun blending the messaging and malware filtering gateway specialist's technologies into its firewalls, which the executives claim has created a new capability to provide customers with "wide packet inspection," an approach that adds reputation-based anti-attack capabilities to the systems' existing virus and spam detection abilities.
Such integration work illustrates the fact that Cisco is improving the ability of its customers to defend their networks from attack and that the firm is serious about innovation and not just attempting to grow its revenues or boost sales of its networking gear by snapping-up other security vendors, Weiss told the assembled audience.
Asked by a conference attendee whether major platform providers like Cisco, Microsoft, and IBM will continue to swallow smaller security companies, along with industry giants like Symantec, and how that will impact the availability of the cutting-edge technologies often developed by independent vendors, Weiss said that more consolidation is likely inevitable.
Yet he also acknowledged that some niche players will continue to do well on their own.
"All the [venture capital] firms that are into small security companies will likely make out like bandits, and there will be a scrum to get the good stuff," said Weiss, who is still heading up IronPort inside Cisco. "Bigger companies will have to decide whether to build, buy, or partner."
Weiss highlighted Webroot, the anti-spyware software company that industry watchers have long tabbed for acquisition based on its specialized focus -- and which continues to defy those predictions and grow on its own -- as an example of the type of vendor that will be able to compete in a world where security is being driven further into other broadly-distributed IT platforms, such as Cisco's ubiquitous networking gear.
"I think we'll continue to see new Webroots pop-up that can help deal with new threats," he said. "The issue for these companies is how broad is their platform and how to carve a significant portion of the infrastructure out; they have to ask themselves if their technology is broad enough to support a large, profitable company."
Along with the benefits of melding together complimentary technologies, such as gateway filtering tools and firewalls, Weiss claims that customers are seeking integrated technologies from single vendors and increasingly looking for "one throat to choke" when selecting security tools.
"Users of these technologies want products that talk to each other and have collaborative interfaces," he said.
Customers worry about consolidation