What’s Behind Juniper-Symantec Partnership?

In the last couple days, I’ve surveyed the extensive coverage of the expanded security partnership between Juniper Networks and Symantec.

I must admit, the announcement leaves us with more questions than answers. The idea, according to the spin the companies have provided, is that Juniper’s network security and Symantec’s content security will be fused in an eventual whole that will represent much more than the sum of its parts, providing comprehensive solutions for unified threat management (UTM), host- and network-based intrusion prevention and detection, network access control, and policy-based content control and filtering spanning individual clients and entire networks.

How they’ll get there, though, and how they’ll address product overlaps between the two companies remain unresolved. There’s still a lot of ambiguity the two companies will need to work through in the planning and execution of this partnership, and let’s keep in mind that it isn’t exclusive.

For the most part, analysts and commentators have fallen into two camps in assessing the implications and repercussions of this alliance.

Some suggest that it likely is a precursor to a merger between Juniper and Symantec. That’s a unlikely scenario. I could see Symantec looking for other acquisitions before it would think of hooking up with Juniper, and the reason Juniper is partnering with Symantec is because it already has reached the conclusion that the markets in which Symantec plays are not ones it wishes to enter.

Others, meanwhile, posit that the real motivation for this announcement is to counter the network-access control interoperability pact that Cisco and Microsoft recently proclaimed. That doesn’t seem likely. Cisco and Microsoft will work together where they must, but it’s a complicated relationship, the classic definition of "coopetition."  They’ll compete in some areas of network access control, and cooperate on others, just as they do in other technologies and markets. Through it all, they’ll be pushed to put customers first, which is why they’ve been compelled to cooperate in the first place.

No, the Cisco-Microsoft announcement wasn’t the driver for this partnership. What I believe did factor into it, however, is Cisco’s relationship with Trend Micro.

Cisco and Juniper came to similar conclusions regarding content security, especially as it relates to email and instant messaging. Both networking vendors though content security was interesting, but it wasn’t a market in which they wanted to play directly, either through a build or a buy. When they looked at the market, they saw intense competition, margin pressures, and mature underlying technologies, such as antivirus. What they also saw was Symantec, Microsoft, McAfee, and others, many of which were entrenched players in long-established content-security markets.

While it’s important for Cisco and Juniper to have partnerships with content-security vendors, they don’t want to compete directly in those markets. So, Cisco formed an extensive partnership with Trend Micro, integrating that company’s antivirus and content-filtering technologies into a wide range of its network-security products and infrastructure. Now, Juniper is doing likewise with Symantec, which gets a network-security partner as a reseller and integrator of its content-security technologies as part of the bargain.

No, Juniper and Symantec aren’t dating as a prologue to marriage, and the Cisco-Microsoft NAC cooperation didn’t drive the partnership, but it’s still an interesting announcement and one that makes perfect sense given industry developments.

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