Cisco Gets Serious About Security, Calls Out Palo Alto, Check Point

Top Cisco executives this week said the networking giant is poised to redefine and win the security market by offering a complete, end-to-end architecture compared with what they said are the point products and siloed offerings sold by competitors such as Palo Alto Networks and Check Point Software Technologies.

"If you look at what's happening in the security market right now, we have all of this great protection technology, but the bad guys are still getting in," said Rob Soderbery, senior vice president of enterprise products and solutions at Cisco, in front of thousands of partners Wednesday during the 2015 Cisco Partner Summit in Montreal.

"Why is that? It's fundamentally because [we need a] change in security moving from product -- you have to have the best product -- but moving to an architecture. You have to have an architecture for security. Cisco is the leader in architectures. We know how to do this better than anybody else."

[Related: Partners: New Cisco Security Offerings Take Aim At Palo Alto Networks]

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"From a partner perspective," Soderbery continued, "we're going to share with you an approach, a methodology, that's going to tie the network business, the data center business, Intercloud, services, [Application Centric Infrastructure] to that security architecture, so you can tell a much bigger, broader story, [close] bigger deals [and have] more impact with your customers."

Soderbery also sought to reassure partners that Cisco takes its security portfolio and its position in the security market seriously, pointing to the billions of dollars the company has spent on security acquisitions such as Sourcefire, ThreatGrid and Meraki over the past few years.

The company has lost some its top security talent in recent months, including Chris Young, who was senior vice president of Security Business Group, and Scott Lovett, who was vice president of Security Sales -- both of whom left for Intel Security last fall.

"Not only are we in it to win, not only can we win, but we are going to win," Soderbery said. "The analysts are saying Cisco is leading in efficacy: leading against Palo Alto, leading against Check Point, leading against Fortinet. So we're there, we have the products and we're refreshing the entire portfolio top to bottom, core to edge. We're all in.

"I know there's concern out there [about Cisco's commitment to its security business], but when you look at today's security business, Cisco is the market leader in security -- we have more revenue in security than anyone else. It's a big, fragmented market, though, and there's a ton of upside. Over the last couple of years, we've spent billions of dollars building that security portfolio, and we're going to keep investing to stay in that leadership position."

A video shown during Soderbery's presentation showed fictional cybercriminals trying to hack a corporate network quipping, "Should be easy. They're probably only using Palo Alto or Check Point. It's like taking candy from a baby."

Solution providers said customers are fed up with security solutions that are cobbled together from products from tens of security vendors that can't really get the job done.

"A lot of our clients are frustrated by having 20 vendors, different management consoles, trying to solve that problem by buying other third-party products to actually consolidate all of the management down -- so they're really frustrated, and nothing that they're putting in is really strong enough to protect them," said Tim Hebert, CEO of Atrion Networking, Warwick, R.I. "I think they're looking for more of an end-to end solution."

Hebert continued: "What I like about [Cisco's] architecture is they're really focusing on the pre-, during- and post-attack model, and changing the mindset from trying to put this super-hard perimeter up and not allow anyone in, to focus [instead] on attack strategies. I think that's a much stronger story that resonates with me and I think will resonate with our clients as well."

On Wednesday, Cisco stepped up its security game by unveiling the full integration of its ACI software-defined networking technology with its Firepower Next Generation Intrusion Prevention System, a combination that will provide automated threat protection in the data center, Cisco said at the partner summit.

Soni Jiandani, senior vice president of corporate marketing for Cisco Insieme Business Unit, said customers can now build highly secure infrastructures with "fine-grained" control, visibility and centralized automation to the application level. She said this provides partners with a huge revenue opportunity in the data center.

"When you think about security from a lifecycle management perspective, partners have a huge opportunity to deliver an end-to-end security platform and portfolio," said Jiandani. "The opportunity for Cisco and for you as partners is huge -- $11.6 billion will be spent by our customers modernizing their data centers [in] calendar year 2015 into calendar year 2016."

ACI is an open ecosystem that can work together with security vendors including Fortinet, Infolox, Intel Security, Radware, Symantec and Check Point, according to Jiandani. The new integration, which includes Advance Malware Protection and will be available for partners in June, provides security to customers before, during and after an attack, letting organizations detect and block threats with continuous visibility and control, she said.

Brian Ortbals, director of advanced technologies at World Wide Technology, a St. Louis-based Cisco gold partner, said Cisco is widening the gap between it and its competitors because the company's security architecture gives more flexibility and visibility to customers.

"What are competitors going to do? I think that's a great question that plays favorably into Cisco's strategy," said Ortbals. "Most security organizations today, manufacturers, are very point-product-driven, and they don’t have access to all the levels of interaction and development that Cisco does.

"Embedding the security components from the edge all the way back to the data center and everything in between -- whether that's wireless, campus users, across a variety of devices, and being able to build an end-to-end profile of that user and the access levels that they're permitted to take advantage of -- nobody else can do that," Orbals said.

"It's nice to see the security portfolio really see a refresh and be much more integrated directly into the rest of the platform, versus acting as if they were just like their existing competition point products that do certain functions and independently operate within the network."

Jiandani said the new security capabilities give unprecedented control, visibility and centralized security automation in the data center. Cisco also said ACI is now validated by independent auditors for deployment in payment card industry complaint networks that can reduce the scope, cost and time of a PCI audit.

Rob Lopez, group executive networking at Dimension Data -- a Cisco gold partner and No. 13 on CRN's SP500 -- said the operational costs can be "massive" for a company when they have to manually configure all the best-of-breed products inside their security portfolio to make sure everything is secure.

"What Firepower does," said Lopez, "is it enables you to [reconsider] your policy, have a single approach to that policy, and then do the provisioning to all of those best-of-breed security products out there, so I think what it does it creates a much more scalable way to ensuring that you are deploying your security policy in a most cost-effective way."

Lopez said Cisco's field sales force was previously lacking and being "outmaneuvered" in the field by competitors. He said that's all changing now with the investments and push Cisco is making internally and in the channel.

Jiandani revealed that as of third quarter fiscal year 2015, there are more than 2,650 ACI and Nexus 9000 customers globally and around 585 customers using application policy infrastructure controller (APIC), which automates and manages the ACI networks.

"In less than one quarter, we have added almost 1,000 new Nexus 9000 customers, and we have almost doubled in one quarter the number of ACI customers," she said. "Keep in mind, ACI has been shipping in the marketplace for less than three quarters."

John Growdon, senior director of data center and enterprise networking worldwide partnering organization, revealed new channel numbers that showed an increase of partner engagement in the software-defined networking space. The amount of certified ACI Authorized Technology Provider Program (ATP) partners rose from five in November, when the ATP was launched, to 110 in April.

He said that through the program, thousands of individuals have been trained as account managers, 1,174 as sales engineers and 723 as field engineers.

"That's twice as fast as we did with UCS in the number of people trained and the number who've achieved this ATP -- it's astounding," said Growdon.

"It demonstrates traction in the market and interest in the partner and customer community to adopt this technology and use it," said Growdon.

Cisco launched a number of new security products for partners in April, including new models of its ASA (Adaptive Security Appliance) firewall line, new malware protection, and its own incident response services. At Partner Summit, Cisco also unveiled a new professional cloud security professional service, Threat Defense Service, for partners.