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Don't Expect Big Security Improvements After Cisco's Skyport Deal

Acquisition’s main purpose is brainpower; Skyport appliance will sunset

Last week, Cisco announced that it will buy Skyport Systems, a security vendor focusing on applications running in hybrid environments.

The acquisition is a sign that the company is not only beefing up security, but adding more support for software-based and cloud networking as part of a focus on hyper-converged infrastructure.

Skyport is best known for SkySecure, a physical server with specialized hardware to enforce firewall rules between the virtual machines hosted on it.

"Such an approach allows customers to have virtual machine-specific firewalls and also get a hardware guarantee that these rules are actually being followed," says Ambuj Kumar, co-founder and CEO at Fortanix, a cybersecurity company headquartered in Mountain View, California. One early use case was protecting Active Directory, he said.

But other than that, the platform didn't get much traction, because it required expensive custom-built servers. Plus, Cisco has its own hyper-converged infrastructure product, HyperFlex.

"Cisco will not sell the existing Skyport Systems offers," a Cisco spokesperson confirmed to Data Center Knowledge. "Cisco will support the installed Skyport Systems customer base through contract termination dates."

More than anything, the acquisition about the Skyport brainpower.

"This acquisition will enable Cisco to utilize Skyport’s intellectual property, seasoned software and network expertise," wrote Rob Salvagno, Cisco's VP of corporate business development.

According to Salvagno, the Skyport team will join Cisco's data center computing systems product group, as well as the service provider networking group.

Skyport's head of product, Nils Swart, confirmed the shutdown of the SkySecure appliance:

Fortanix's Kumar said he expects to see Skyport's know-how make its way into Cisco's data center server and hyper-converged infrastructure offerings, but in a limited way.

"The highly custom approach used by Skyport to secure systems is going to be difficult to apply to general-purpose compute infrastructure," he said.

There is one big important security lesson here, he added. "Security must be built into the infrastructure and not an afterthought."

In particular, security must be focused on the applications themselves. "We must assume that even if the infrastructure is compromised the application remains protected," he said.

The Skyport acquisition "puts more meat on the multi-cloud bone," said Mike Sapien, chief analyst for enterprise services at Ovum.

"Cloud management is the area where Cisco has been playing catch-up," he added. "But recent moves with the announcement of multi-cloud last October has high potential to surpass some of the current solutions for cloud management."

Security has also been a weak spot for Cisco, he said.

This isn't Cisco's first acquisition to demonstrate a shift toward cloud, security, and software-centric solutions.

Last year it acquired Cmpute.io, a cloud application optimization provider and announced a hybrid cloud partnership with Google. It also bought Viptela, a cloud-first software-defined wide area networking vendor; Observable Networks, which offered cloud-native network forensics; a team of cloud and security experts from Saggezza; and AppDynamics, which specialized in application performance monitoring.

The previous year, it bought CliQr and its application-focused cloud orchestration platform and the cloud security company CloudLock.

The hyper-converged infrastructure market grew 79 percent in 2016, according to Gartner, and will reach mainstream use by 2021.

"We fully expect the use cases to embrace mission-critical applications in the future," said Gartner analyst George Weiss in a report. But the market still has many challenges to overcome, he added.

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