The Firewall Evolution: Fortinet CEO Says Security Vendor Prepping For The Fourth Generation Of Firewall Market

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The firewall market has changed drastically over the past 10 years, and now it's ready for the next evolution.

Fortinet CEO Ken Xie said he has watched the market evolve from when he started NetScreen in 1996, pairing together software and hardware for an ASIC-based network firewall and VPN appliance, to the end of 2000 when he launched an anti-virus firewall to focus on content and application security as part of a company that ultimately would become Fortinet.

Fortinet itself has evolved alongside the market, moving beyond the firewall two years ago to secure the entire infrastructure instead of just looking inside the network connections. Xie called that transition the "third generation" of network security, comparing it to getting TSA pre-checked for a flight instead of just needing a ticket and a security X-ray scan.

[Related: Q&A: Fortinet CEO Xie On Why The Company Will Beat Cisco, Palo Alto Networks And Check Point As The Network Security Market Evolves]

Now, Xie said the firewall market is preparing for the fourth generation, one that has technology companies across the enterprise infrastructure building in security from the beginning and leveraging automation to improve security capabilities and management. 

"We're hoping that we can build a foundation for the next generation of the internet and networking based on content and applications," Xie said. "In order to protect the data today, just to look on the network side is no longer enough. It has to be more broad than that," he said.

To get there, firewall manufacturers have to evolve around five key areas, Xie said: detection, prevention, integration, performance and lower cost. Xie said few firewall vendors to date have checked the boxes in all those areas.

With that vision in mind, Xie said Fortinet has been repositioning its business over the past two years. The culmination of that transformation was the launch a year ago of the company's Security Fabric strategy, which looks to provide a security framework for the company's broad set of offerings.

"Today is not only about network security anymore," Xie said. "It's from the network, to Wi-Fi access, to the application, to email, web applications, and to the cloud. … Network is still a major piece, but the other pieces need to be working together as well."

Fortinet has grown significantly during the past two years, with more than 300,000 customers, 3 million FortiGate devices deployed globally, and sales up 20 percent year over year in the most recent quarter to $340.6 million. Earnings also were up for the most recent quarter, from $2.1 million in 2016 to $10.7 million in the first quarter this year. 

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