Network security continues to be a fast-growing market of keen interest to investors. Core network connectivity traditionally has fallen under the purview of hardware manufacturers such as Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks, whereas companies such as Symantec and McAfee (formerly Network Associates) generally have been considered the primary sources of security products. However, this long-established boundary separating networking and security is rapidly blurring and might soon disappear entirely.
The pattern of acquisitions by network and security companies over the past 18 months reveals a fundamental transformation is underway that places these two markets on a collision course. Network equipment providers are seeking to extend their reach by offering security software. At the same time, security companies are introducing hardware-based offerings to improve product lines. The resulting products will offer a richer and better-integrated set of functionality to customers. However, network managers must now know significantly more about security to evaluate, deploy and maintain these next-generation networking and security products effectively.
Juniper has publicly stated that its acquisition of NetScreen was only the initial step in a long-range plan to bring new levels of security to the enterprise. Cisco's acquisition of Okena offers an even more striking glimpse of how far network vendors might take the convergence. The now renamed Cisco Security Agent provides threat protection for desktop and server computing systems -- the endpoints of the network.
While switch and router companies make their move into security software, incumbent security providers have not been standing idle. Symantec's acquisitions of TurnTide and Brightmail provide the company with a multi-tier spam offering, including a router-based network perimeter device. With its Recourse acquisition, Symantec added multi-gigabit network intrusion-detection capabilities. McAfee has followed a similar path by improving its network offerings with a hardware-based appliance for real-time network intrusion detection and prevention through its acquisition of IntruVert Networks.
The number of emerging security concerns means that network and security providers will be busy answering customer demand for expanded protection. There are already exciting early-stage companies in all these promising security sectors.
The changing landscape will have a major effect on tomorrow's networks. Managers whose job it is to deal with an equipment maker such as Cisco now also must evaluate the security features of the next-generation network products, understand how such offerings will interoperate with security software from the same company, and consider where these products fit within enterprise security. Similarly, those in charge of desktop software, such as for anti-virus, will find vendors such as Symantec offering network products for denial of service and intrusion detection. These administrators will need to involve network managers in deciding how to secure endpoint systems.
The point for all IT managers is clear: Network and security are no longer two distinct categories.