Daily Archives: August 28, 2006

Analyst Says HP Might Acquire Sourcefire, Check Point

Perhaps great minds think alike, or perhaps we’re both wrong, but analyst Momin Khan of Technology Business Research believes that Sourcefire and Check Point represent more likely security acquisitions for HP than does McAfee.

HP, like IBM, is looking to substantively strengthen its software capabilities. IBM is off and spending, so HP will be playing catch up, seeking niches and openings in areas where IBM already has representation or where HP’s customer base and expertise give it an edge.

Juniper Turns Screws on Content-Security Vendors

The world has become a gloomy place for content- and messaging-security vendors that have yet to find a permanent dance partner among the security industry’s titans.

Increasingly, the window of opportunity that the big players left open to innovative smaller companies is closing.

Firewall vendors initially failed to respond to application-layer exploits and vulnerabilities that afflicted email, instant messaging, and web-based applications. Since a firewall essentially opens and closes ports, leaving open ports for legitimate applications and shutting down others, most of the major vendors’ firewalls failed to thoroughly inspect incoming traffic on well-known application ports, such as port 25 (SMTP) for email, port 80 (HTTP) for web traffic, and various IM-related ports.

Sensing an opportunity, smaller vendors leapt at the opening to provide inbound security solutions, often in the form of software-based appliances. These offerings provided an inline or parallel means of filtering and scrubbing application-specific traffic that perimeter-based firewalls assumed to be safe and secure.

There were threats in that traffic, of course, especially in email, which was rife with spam, worms, and viruses. A entire market segment came into being, populated with vendors such as IronPort, CipherTrust (recently acquired by Secure Computing), Proofpoint, Mirapoint, Barracuda, and scores of others.

All of the aforementioned players sold email-security appliances, and they were joined by others who sold server-based software or hosted email-security services, with Postini and FrontBridge (now owned by Microsoft) serving as examples of the latter.

Many of these companies were amply funded by venture capitalists, who, like many market analysts from companies such as Gartner and IDC, were convinced that the market was primed for heady growth for years to come.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way, unfortunately.

The market is growing, yes, but not nearly at the pace or on the scale that was forecast by the most optimistic of the market analysts. What’s more, a few moves by larger players — Symantec’s acquisition in 2004 of Brightmail, Microsoft’s acquisition of FrontBridge, Secure Computing’s decision to buy CipherTrust — have severely cut the legs out from under the smaller players who had hoped to have been either public companies by now or to have been bought by one of the industry’s major players.

But the industry’s other major players — McAfee, Trend, Cisco, Juniper — either have chosen to remain on the sidelines or internally develop their own messaging-security solutions. It seems that nearly every antivirus vendor now has a line of appliances that provide inbound messaging security, web security, or both.

As for the networking vendors — Cisco and Juniper — they have chosen to bolster their firewalls with organic development rather than venturing outside their companies to make acquisitions.

Juniper provided a data point along those lines earlier today, when it announced that its latest release of ScreenOS, the hardened version of Linux that powers its firewall and VPN appliances (which it obtained through its acquisition of NetScreen in 2004), would include new features to enable its Secure Services Gateway (SSG) family of products to provide IPS, antivirus (including anti-spyware, anti-adware, anti-phishing), anti-spam, and web filtering. That pretty much covers the range of inbound content threats.

Cisco has followed a similar course in beefing up its firewalls and routers to deliver content-security capabilities, and both companies also are working to fill out network access control (NAC) architectures.

So, where does that leave the companies who staked their claim as content-security pure plays? Well, it leaves them scrambling to redefine themselves, trying to find an area — reputation networks, web-services security, outbound content filtering, compliance offerings — where they can, perhaps, sustainably differentiate themselves from the big boys.

Sometimes, when market windows close, there isn’t much of a warning. The window can slam down like a guillotine on those that haven’t been paying close attention to what’s happening around them.

Scoble Mistakes Commentary for Adulation

Former Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble, who presumably still retains shares and a rooting interest in his former employer, seems aghast that so many bloggers have lavished attention on Google’s announcement of its first integrated suite of web-based business applications.

Scoble usually is an extremely perceptive sort, but on this occasion he seems to have confused commentary, much of it critical, for adulation. From what I have seen, very few bloggers have uncritically embraced Google’s elegantly named Google Apps for Your Domain. (Sorry, but that’s a horrible name for any service, much less one that Google hopes to grow gradually into a meaningful business.)

Anyway, irrespective of the degree of critical analysis and commentary that the Google announcement drew today, how would Scoble have wanted bloggers to react to Google’s news?

Should they have sullenly snubbed it because they were not privy to an advance briefing? Sorry, but that isn’t even an adoption. It would have been irrational, peevish, petulant, and pointless.

I, for one, couldn’t care less if the PR hacks from any of the major vendors come calling before they make an announcement. They’re just going to feed me pureed and intensively spun pabulum, and life is too short to subject myself to that sort of inanity. I don’t need to hear the contrived, endlessly rehearsed pitches, and my ego doesn’t need the stroking. Some of us have to remain humble.

Besides, this was a newsworthy event. It called out not only for news coverage, but also for analysis, commentary, investigation, and speculation on what is likely to follow in the months and years ahead. Google finally is taking its web-based business services out of the shadows and into the light. It’s natural for bloggers to take a close look and provide their assessments.

As for the hyped cage match of Google versus Microsoft in the battle for web-based business application dominance, it’s not on the current bill. It remains a coming attraction.

Revisionist History of Fiorina’s HP Reign

When Carly Fiorina was ousted as Hewlett-Packard’s CEO in February of 2005, the consensus was that she wouldn’t be missed, that she was mostly sizzle and little steak, an eloquent marketer with lots of creative ideas but a paucity of practical knowledge on how to implement them.

Probably the defining act of her reign at HP was the gargantuan merger with Compaq. It took too long for the benefits of the merger to materialize, and Fiorina was shown the door by a board of directors that was under increasing pressure from major shareholders, customers, and HP employees — many of whom never took to Fiorina’s regal marketing style — to find a new leader.

So, they dumped Fiorina, hired a no-nonsense operations specialist, Mark Hurd, away from NCR, and the rest, as they say, is history.

HP certainly has turned a corner under Hurd’s pragmatic, workmanlike stewardship. The company is resurgent in profitability, doing well in nearly every aspect of its business, while capitalizing on the missteps of some of its major competitors, especially the reeling PC market leader Dell.

Now trade journalists and analysts are asking how much credit Fiorina deserves for HP’s recent renaissance. As an article at CNET’s News.com contends, many of the objectives she set for the post-merger HP have been realized, and the vision she had for the company has been vindicated.

Still, as the HP board made clear when it issued her walking papers (as well as a munificent severance package), the problem with Fiorina was execution, not strategy.

In a company’s HP’s size, however, that’s a serious problem. Once the merger with Compaq cleared regulatory and shareholder approvals, there was no looking back for HP. The focus turned to realizing the benefits and value of the combination, and that’s where Fiorina failed.

She did a creditable job promulgating the strategic vision, but she was out of her depth in integrating and and restructuring the merged company for commercial success in the field. Execution was not her forte, but after all the dust had settled, that’s exactly what HP needed most.

HP made the right decision in relieving Fiorina of her duties and bringing in a detail- and structure-oriented, rigorous, execution specialist as its CEO. It was the right call then, and it remains the right call in the pellucid light of hindsight.

There’s no reason to revise the view of Fiorina as an exceptionally intelligent marketing executive with a knack for vision and big ideas, but with an egregious blind spot when it came to operational efficiency and business execution. Nothing that has happened before, during, or after her ouster makes that picture any less accurate.

Google Jabs Tentatively Into Office Space

Last night, as nearly everybody knows by now, a tidal wave of embargoed press coverage washed over the web regarding the launch of “Google Apps for Your Domain,” Google’s first concerted move into the provision of hosted application services for business customers.

For those of you who have been incommunicado for the past 14 hours, Google Apps for Your Domain is a set of free services that comprises web-based email, calendaring, instant messaging, and page-creation programs. Small- and medium-size businesses, universities and colleges, and non-profit organizations can pick and choose from Gmail, GoogleTalk, Google Calendar, and Google Page Creator.

As with most Google free services, the tradeoff for those who adopt them is that they also must accept Google advertising. For some, the combination of the advertising and Google’s terms of service, especially in the wake of AOL’s scandalous disclosure of customer-search data, is enough to dissuade them from embracing Google’s latest offering.

Naturally, there’s plenty of talk this morning about how Google finally has taken lethal aim at Microsoft’s Office’s $11.7-billion (in annual revenue) fortress.

That’s a dramatic narrative theme, to be sure, but it isn’t accurate — not yet, anyway. This is merely a first move from Google, not a checkmate. Since this first iteration of the wretchedly named Google Apps for Your Domain doesn’t include personal-productivity applications such as word processing or spreadsheets, I’m sure Microsoft’s near-term hold on small businesses is safe for now, never mind its iron grip on larger enterprises.

Google, for its part, claims his first foray into business applications is complementary to Microsoft’s offerings, and that’s a wise tack to take.

Suggesting that it is providing collaborative features that incumbent products lack, or inadequately provide, Google is contending that its new services enhance rather than replace what customers already are using. It’s not entirely true, of course, but it’s better than saying that this particular offering represents Google’s definitive answer to the application needs of business users, which it most assuredly does not.

Over time, though, especially if a feature article in InformationWeek is to be believed, that will change. Google will fill out its web-based business software product portfolio — perhaps at that point changing the name to something more mellifluous, such as Google Office — with word processing, spreadsheet, and other functions, and it will add service-level agreements and other business-friendly adjuncts. Higher-end, fee-based versions will eschew the advertising.

But the pace and nature of those future releases remain to be seen. What we have before us today — programs that provide web-based email, calendaring, instant messaging, and page creation — doesn’t redefine anything. It’s a tentative step — nothing more, nothing less. It makes one wonder whether Google should have waited until its Writely word-processing service had been fully integrated, along with Google Spreadsheet, into the suite before making this announcement, but Google probably had its reasons.

The thing to remember about Google, as an industry player, is that it isn’t a knockout puncher. It doesn’t provide single-punch dramatics. Instead, it take its time, throwing precise, short jabs, methodically moving forward and working toward the desired outcome.

That’s why the company can be, and has been, underestimated. Its progress, as judged at any single juncture, is nearly imperceptible. You really don’t see Google coming until it’s too late.

I think that’s why there’s been so much head scratching from the pundits in response to this announcement. We’ve all become so conditioned to “big” announcements, we’re always looking for them.

Well, with Google, you won’t get them.

Everything with Google is a work in progress, and that work apparently never ends. To assess what Google is doing, and whether it will achieve its goals, you have to forget what you’ve learned about traditional product-release schedules, the concept of a finished product, and the huge PR-intensive product launch.

With Google, products and services never truly are complete; enhancements and refinements will continue into perpetuity. Unless you view what Google is doing on a broader timeline than the moment, there’s little drama or understanding to be had. It’s just more stuff coming at you, some of it not fully formed or integrated with other parts of a complete solution.

For now, the Microsoft-versus-Google dramatics that this announcement seems to have unleashed are woefully misplaced. As Paul Kedrosky points out, companies other than Microsoft will be the first to bear the brunt of Google’s gradual, iterative advance into web-based business services. Included among those who will feel the Google-administered pain: domain hosting, application, and storage services.

Like a good, thoroughly prepared, systematic boxer, Google is disrupting and taking apart lesser foes before it steps into the business ring for the main event against a reigning champion. The thing is, we might not know when that bout begins, and its ending might be just as ambiguous.