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Cisco-Sourcefire union raises many product overlap questions

Ellen Messmer and Jim Duffy | July 24, 2013
Analysts generally positive, but Cisco mum on huge product overlap with Sourcefire in IPS/next-gen firewalls.

Chris Young and Martin Roesch
Cisco's Chris Young (left) says Sourcefire CTO Martin Roesch will be driving a lot of Cisco's security strategy.

Industry watchers are bullish about the $2.7 billion Cisco buyout of security company Sourcefire announced today, but they have plenty of questions about how these competitors in intrusion-detection and prevention (IDS/IPS) and next-generation firewalls (NGFW) will sort out significant product overlap.

According to IDC, Cisco can be counted as the market leader in network security in terms of sheer sales of firewalls and IPS. Sourcefire wins plaudits from industry analysts like Gartner for its IPS and remains the champion of the open-source IDS called Snort that was invented in 1998 by Sourcefire founder and CTO Martin Roesch.

Exactly how the companies' products will sync up remains largely a mystery though. Wall Street financial analysts and IT security analysts grilled Cisco today on whether there are either-or technology choices to be made, but the company is remaining officially mum on this topic until after the deal is finalized later this year.

In the near term at least, "product integration just isn't going to happen," said Gartner security analyst Greg Young about the areas where Cisco and Sourcefire directly compete: IPS and NGFW. Gartner believes Cisco will go forward in the near-term after its acquisition by maintaining both the Cisco ASA firewall product line, where IPS is often a function in that, and separately support the Sourcefire IPS product lines, which have grown to include a NGFW, network-discovery tools and its FireAMP anti-malware and cloud-based threat-detection service.

Gartner's view is that it remains a long-term goal to achieve product integration in this area, though a common management console might come earlier. One influential factor is that the IPS market is not showing growth as the technology is often becoming part of firewalls, Young says.

But Young says a big impetus for Cisco to buy Sourcefire is simply "security credibility," and adding technology and human resources to compete in a crowded IT security market. Cisco has been fighting to hold onto its lead against companies like Palo Alto Networks in NGFW, while FireEye and others make strides in anti-malware sandboxing technologies.

Chris Young, senior vice president in Cisco's security group, acknowledges that Cisco and Sourcefire compete in IDS/IPS, which Cisco often includes as part of its ASA firewalls. He says he is precluded at this time from discussing specific strategy in IDS/IPS and NGFW until after the acquisition is completed. Once the deal is finalized, Cisco plans to put forward a product road map that would include these product and service topics.

Cisco's Young did say that today the company wants to buy Sourcefire for its core technologies (including FireAMP) and threat-research expertise. Cisco is considering how to integrate FireAMP threat detection into security products such as Cisco ASA firewalls and Web security gateways, he says.


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