Cisco Security’s Shawn Yuskaitis on XDR, Specializations And Investments Into Security-Minded Partners

‘We need to make sure that Cisco is not only looked at as a strong networking company, but also the No. 1 security company on the planet. Our solutions, our investments in our partners, are all about bringing that all together and making sure that we are approaching our partners in the market in the way that they’re looking to receive security,’ Cisco’s Shawn Yuskaitis told CRN.

Cisco Systems has been on a mission to become just as well-known for its security offerings as it is for its networking portfolio.

The tech giant at the RSA Conference 2022 revealed that it would be approaching the security market from a platform perspective, rather than promoting its point security products. To that end, Cisco Security Cloud was unveiled, the company’s security plan for the future made up of an open-standards-based platform that works across hybrid and multi-cloud environments with capabilities for securely connecting people, applications and devices located anywhere. The platform includes threat prevention, detection, response and remediation at scale, with no vendor lock-in.

At RSAC 2023 last month, Cisco wanted partners to see that it was still moving down the platform path by highlighting its Extended Detection and Response (XDR) strategy that converges the company’s expertise and visibility across the network and endpoints into one risk-based offering. It uses Cisco’s own telemetry and integrates with leading third-party vendors to share telemetry and increase interoperability. Cisco XDR is now in beta with general availability coming in July 2023. And earlier this month, Cisco launched a new security specialization around XDR, bringing the total number of Solution Specializations to seven.

On the company’s path to unifying its cybersecurity portfolio and boosting its market share in the security space, Cisco is simplifying and investing heavily in partners, to the tune of an incremental $100 million in its channel base around security in the second half of the company’s fiscal year 2023, said Shawn Yuskaitis, Cisco’s director of global security go-to-market strategy and sales acceleration.

Yuskaitis caught CRN up with the Cisco XDR offering, the new offers and incentives available for partners, and how partners are responding to Cisco’s platform approach to the security market.

Here are excerpts from the conversation.

Tell us about Cisco’s XDR new strategy.

One really big announcement we [recently made] was we launched our Cisco XDR solution. The solution was really designed by our [security operations center] SOC experts and our customers and partners – so, designed by SOC experts, for SOC experts. It’s really about simplifying security operations across the board. What I think is very unique about our XDR solution is that it spans multiple threat vectors, everything from the endpoint, through to the network, as well as the cloud, and it simplifies overall management, bringing it all together in one place. The feedback from partners [at RSAC] was phenomenal. Just hearing from our partners and seeing the excitement of the teams that are out there. It is set to go GA toward the end of July and it’s going to open up to some really significant opportunities for our partners.

On the other side, we made some pretty significant updates to our [Cisco] Duo portfolio. Namely, we took some of the advanced features of Trusted Endpoints and added that to all three tiers of our Duo packages (Essentials, Advanced and Premier). By doing this we have increased the capabilities within our standard [multi-factor authentication] MFA package without impacting price. So, again, really simplifying for our partners. These announcements, I think, are going to provide key differentiators for our partners as well as increased opportunities for them as they engage with their customers.

What kinds of offers and promotions are you offering right now to incentivize partners to sell Cisco security?

[As of the beginning of May, we launched] a security step-up promotion. That is going to provide our partners with an extremely differentiated promotion to bring together our cloud security through [secure web gateway] SWG along with Duo, so all these capabilities that we just announced will now be part of that, and then also our Email Threat Defense. That’s just going to make it a lot more consumable for our customers and create a very compelling and profitable opportunity for our partners.

Partners can leverage the [security step-up promotion] to deploy three powerful lines of defense that are simple, secure and resilient for their customers. It brings together the breadth of our security solutions to protect every critical attack vector, so we can get email, web traffic, as well as user credentials in one single step-up offer, and really why we’re doing that is to make it very easy. We’ve [been] talking about how we want to simplify consumption and move toward these suites, so this is a very big step forward as we start to move in that direction.

Tell us about the last Security Specialization and how many security-related specializations does Cisco have today?

Currently, we have two. We have our [secure access service edge] SASE specialization and now we have also just launched the XDR specialization. A little foreshadowing there -- we will continue to do this as we launch new solutions and offers to the market. This is part of a much bigger [push] for our partners toward simplification. How do we make it easier for our partners to focus in on the outcomes and the opportunities that they themselves want to invest in? We have many partners out there already today that are trained on the components around in our Advanced Security Architecture specialization and of course, our Master Security Specialization. So, this is just further refining that and we’re going to be making much more approachable to a broader set of partners as we move forward.

In general, our specializations are really built to give [partners] a differentiation in the marketplace. There are profitability components that do lean back to our specializations and ultimately, what we’re trying to do is make sure that all of this is going to be value-added, but we do not restrict access to our products based upon specialization [for partners].

Cisco in April said it was making an $100 million investment in partners on this side of FY23. Why are partners so key in the security space right now?

There’s a tremendous amount of complexity when you look at the tools and the number of vendors that are out there. So, there’s a strong need to consolidate. Our customers, our partners; all are looking for that single platform approach and Cisco is in the best place to deliver that. When you think about the investments that we’re making, what we want to do is make sure that we’re reinvigorating the practices with our partners. Innovation, like our launch with XDR, is just one of the many examples of where we’re going from a SASE and SSE perspective, [and] is another incredible opportunity for our partners. To that end, we need to make sure that Cisco is not only looked at as a strong networking company, but also the No. 1 security company on the planet. Our solutions, our investments in our partners, are all about bringing that all together and making sure that we are approaching our partners in the market in the way that they’re looking to receive security. So, that $100 million, if you think about it, there’s a large portion of that being targeted towards marketing and brand awareness so that they understand how our technologies fit together and how together, Cisco can not only provide the network and connect our businesses, but also protect them.

We’ve made significant investments with our partners around the globe. We’ve also launched new offers and promotions that are really targeting their profitability. We’ve made significant investments throughout the lifecycle of our partners. So, again, looking at the upfront profitability, looking at the back end and the rebates and programs like Perform Plus and VIP. We’ve also been investing in the specializations, making sure that they have those skills in order to best service their customers. But we also are investing quite a bit now in order to add profitability drivers within the lifecycle. There’s some significant opportunities for our partners to go and upgrade the current install base because there’s just massive innovations that we’re that we’re bringing to the market and we need to make sure that our partners’ installed base are running that latest and greatest technology, because it comes back to that core element: as we see talent shortages that are out there, it simplifies, while at the same time, improves the overall security efficacy.

The other thing I wanted to clarify -- that $100 million is just an incremental $100 million on top of everything we’re already doing and we are continuing to invest. We were very focused on increasing that mindshare ... We’ve also invested very heavily within [partner] overall marketing development funds and such.

Is Cisco’s vision of building out a platform approach to security resonating with the channel?

When you think about XDR and moving more towards the platform [approach], whether it’s bringing the best of our technology together with even with third party technologies, ultimately simplifying the experience for both our partners and for our customers. XDR was a really good example of how we’re moving to that platform approach -- it’s another proof point. [Partners] are going to continue to see a very rapid and profound shift in that direction. Something we hear from our partners all the time is that Cisco has such an unprecedented opportunity as they truly deliver that platform. And that is absolutely 100 percent of what we’re doing.