Friday, November 02, 2007

Cisco Acquires Securent

Why? Many people [Burton group] who [Ian Glazer] are[Jackson Shaw] more[Dave Kearns] qualified[Forrester] than[Ian Yip] me have expressed their opinion on this subject. The main reason for the acquisition proposed -
  1. Cisco has finally seen the light and decided to enter the IAM space - I do not think this makes much sense given that they are not a software stack company, not even a software infrastructure company (like Symantec, Oracle, SAP, etc).
  2. Cisco needed a product to build identity based authorization into network and hence all its products - I think it is a result of reading too much by us entitlement management guys in to it and the way we would like to see the world.
Externalization of Security Reading in to the fact that product has been placed in Collaboration Service Group and created a separate policy group, it looks like Cisco sees the product as a quick way to externalize the policy management from the various collaborative products. Another important aspect of these product (esp SaaS) is that security for these product is managed by End-users. Most of the web based application vendors (who do not sell security products) have been able to successfully externalize the authentication (support for sso, saml) and user repository (LDAP) but do not have a good model to replicate in the authorization space. If the result of this externalization of authorization across multiple application is successful, vendors will have a model to replicate. This will be a very big win for various enterprises that have been trying to drill this into vendor's head ( being one of them). But I think this is a tougher problem to solve than externalization of authentication and user repository (which are mostly one time job). I see the following problems
  1. If externalization is being performed at administration level, then how do you expose widely different access control model (a SaaS site's model would probably be very different from Web Conferencing / IP Phones access model) through same interface without sacrificing usability, flexibility and asking users to learn a new policy language.
  2. If standardization/externalization is being performed at evaluation level, then how do you meet different performance requirements of different access control models through same generic engine. In addition to that keeping different implementations (on different platforms) for same policy evaluation algorithm with various performance tweaks can be tough.
Impressive Team and great execution I am amazed by how everybody has seen it as a complete technology acquisition and has not given enough credit to Cisco for investing into the team (may be they know something that I do not know about how acquisitions work). The complete team starting from Rajiv Gupta to their pre-sales team members have time and again been giving pretty impressive performance during various meetings with their (potential) clients. In addition to that if any body has been tracking securent over past 1.5-2 years, it is amazing how their sales and marketing team (biz dev) have taken a "would-be" space of authorization to a happening space and recreated a whole domain of entitlement management so much so that this year can aptly be said to be year of entitlement management atleast in terms of hype that was generated (I have never seen so many people clamoring to jump on to third-party entitlement bandwagon in financial services). I would really love to see this team take on a bigger challenges like Salesforce :) To me that could be a great reason in itself to buy the company instead of OEMing the product (beside the obvious reason that there is always the issue of OEMing from a small vendor which may be gone or bought by a competitor). What Next? Well looks like Securent is getting ready to be subsumed by Cisco and hopefully, in a year or two, we would have somebody from their team coming to burton group conference (or some other entitlement confrence) to discuss how their attempt to externalize the security from their collaboration software went and we all will have a good use-case to learn from. With the economy in US having a few hiccups and a possibility that SOX (one of the primary driver for various iam initiatives at this point) may be blamed for all economic problems, the info sec across the enterprises may be fighting a tough battle to get their company's entitlements in order (as soon as they get their user directory, authentication, provisioning in order). In addition to that the big vendors are expected to come out with new offerings in this domain which would make survival of new and existing company tougher. So, will we see a new startup in fine grain authorization space? I sincerely hope so and would love to see them grow and find a new niche in this space because as I see it the problems have just become tougher to solve.