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IBM Cisco: A Secure Partnership

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The notion of a trusted network is about to be redefined. Two key industry players, Cisco and IBM, have just announced a deep integration and partnership around security that is set to change the game when it comes to networked security issues. Of course in the age of the internet all IT security issues are network issues. What really marks this partnership out is its depth though. This isn’t just marketing puff –it is substantive co-development agreement.

Cisco and IBM both have very strong brands when it comes to trust. While other vendors talk about trust, IBM and Cisco already have it. IBM in fact consistently underplays its strengths in trust, which is one reason its aggressive push with Cisco is likely to pay real dividends.

Viruses are hurting businesses really badly at the moment and they are increasingly frustrated with Microsoft efforts in this area. Every week seems to see a new problem. IBM is going to exploit this fear uncertainty and doubt.

The alliance is substantive and competitors should pay close attention. Microsoft will be thinking hard, as will Check Point Software Technologies, HP, Intel, Micromuse, Nokia and many others. Symantec will surely be chewing over the news and scratching its head about the implications. But smaller vendors should be realistic – you could say the IBM Cisco alliance is not the competition, it’s the environment in which you are going to compete.

For customers on the other hand the news has to be good. Network and data center managers are getting a lot of pressure and even abuse from business managers because of security related costs and fears about reputation and corporate governance—better integration between Cisco and IBM can only make life easier.

Cisco Network Admission Control (NAC) is being tightly integrated with IBM Tivoli Identity Manager. Going forward this integration will go right to the agent level, so that Cisco and IBM management architectures and models are increasingly common. The two firms are developing a mutual approach to management of identities and network resource access. NAC integration will allow networks to be compartmentalized according to business or IT policy– thus for example if a server is showing degraded performance it can be isolated as a subnet for remediation.

In the meantime IBM is going to ship Cisco security agents and VPN clients with many of its build-to-order servers and PCs. IBM Thinkpad laptops include onboard cryptographic chips—Cisco related security information and credentials will be stored on these chips to allow for trusted status.

The alliance is unsurprising from a business perspective: it is a little known fact that Cisco is IBM’s largest reseller of xSeries servers, for example. Both firms already make a few billion dollars each per year out of the existing relationship.

RedMonk reckons this relationship is set to get far deeper still. We expect Cisco to start OEMing IBM POWER microprocessors in its products, for example, while Cisco will very likely build not only a practice selling Tivoli software tools for identity and access management, but also potentially broader performance and availability toolsets.

One reason the relationship is burgeoning is there is almost no overlap in the firms’ operations and products. Ever since IBM got out of the network market, this kind of alliance has been possible. If Cisco wasn’t so huge IBM would buy it. Could we even see a merger in future? Stranger things have happened.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of downside except for competitors and associated channel management issues. Customers want this relationship to get stronger. Security is just too big a problem to rely on patchwork solutions.

The Voice over IP wave set to break over the telecoms industry is a massive opportunity for both players. IBM can ride Cisco into telco companies, where HP and Sun dominated in the late 90s, while Cisco also gets a firm leg up into the enterprise.

There is a still a massive amount of work to be done, but it is interesting that Cisco and IBM carried out a fair amount of integration work before going public about the next stage of their burgeoning partnership. Doing something before talking about it is kind of old fashioned in this industry, and marks out how seriously the firms take their responsibilities. If Cisco and IBM can trust each other like this then networks and IT departments will be the beneficiaries.

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