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Security Vendors Debate Integration Vs. Consolidation

Familiar, yes, but more relevant than ever as the number of security companies continues to shrink

A familiar-sounding debate took on new urgency last week at the RSA Conference in San Francisco, as the top players voiced their opinions about cooperation vs. consolidation against the backdrop of a rapidly shifting and consolidating security industry.

First, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates publicly shifted his company's security burden onto the shoulders of chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie, who admitted his biggest challenge will be making Microsoft's security more intuitive and easier to implement. The way security is used today is "roughly the equivalent of a text-based interface," Mundie said during the opening keynote speech he shared with Gates.

Gates to Mundie: Take my security strategy--please!

Gates to Mundie: Take my security strategy--please!
For his part, Gates emphasized the need to erect virtual boundaries within operating systems and software that define where and how people connect to information. Those boundaries will require a lot of cooperation and coordination. "At the security level, interoperability is absolutely fundamental," Gates said.

Better coordination will open the door to broader use of digital certificates for verifying the identity of users and making sure the Web sites they visit are valid, Gates said. And Microsoft's work to make Vista CardSpace--client software in its new operating system that lets users provide their digital identities to Web sites without the need for passwords--compatible with the emerging Web authentication standard OpenID 2.0 is a significant step in this direction.

Nobody argued against the need for greater cooperation--but how? Will technology integration happen more efficiently and effectively through partnerships or through industry consolidation?


RSA, which was snapped up by EMC in September for $2.1 billion, is--not surprisingly--a fan of consolidation. During his keynote speech, RSA president Art Coviello predicted the end of the standalone security vendor within three years. Instead, security will be woven into the infrastructures provided by vendors like Cisco, EMC, IBM, and Microsoft. "The value of security as a standalone solution is diminishing," he said. "Static solutions aren't enough for dynamic attacks."

Tom Noonan, another vested-interest fan of industry consolidation, spoke of the positive effects of IBM's $1.3 billion acquisition last October of his company, Internet Security Systems. "IBM ensures the system's view is designed into the network," Noonan said.

But the vision shared by EMC, IBM, and Microsoft contrasted sharply with that of Symantec chairman and CEO John Thompson. "No one security company will secure everyone to the extent they can provide the level of confidence needed to assure trust across the entire Internet," Thompson said in a keynote.

Symantec, like its counterparts, is expanding through acquisition, including most recently an $830 million bid for management software maker Altiris. But Thompson made it clear that security technology and services must be offered by companies that specialize in the protection of data, networks, and systems. "Who would entrust one company to do this?" he said. "You wouldn't want the company that creates your company's operating system to be the one to secure that operating system. It's a conflict of interest." His thinly veiled reference to Microsoft was greeted with applause from some of the audience.

Much of this discussion smacked of justifying each company's growth ambitions. Still, none of the security heavyweights denied the need for security technology to work together better. They can't afford to. No one's feeling any more secure these days. And that's a problem for all of them.

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