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Security in SDN effort puts Fortinet in limelight

Fortinet introduces a framework for security in SDN, as startups attract market spotlight.

While it doesn't yet have a product, firewall maker Fortinet Inc. is assuring customers it plans to release technology to help them secure software-defined networking (SDN) deployments.

Fortinet introduced this week, a "security framework" that's a stay-tuned document for customers looking for security in SDN. The announcement does not discuss new products.

The company is one of a number of established security vendors that do not want to be upstaged by startups born of the SDN trend. Such newcomers include Illumio Inc., vArmour and FortyCloud Ltd.

"I think the established firewall vendors are clearly repositioning themselves and their product portfolios for SDN and cloud data centers," IDC analyst Brad Casemore said. "Fortinet is no exception."

Instead, the company promises technology to secure the three SDN layers, which are the data, control and management planes. The company plans to do that through "proprietary and open application programming interfaces (APIs)."

"The key is providing scalable security modules that can be called on-demand, at the orchestration level," John Maddison, vice president of marketing for Fortinet, said in a statement.

Traditional firewall vendors, which also include Palo Alto Networks and Check Point Software Technologies Ltd., are feeling the market pressure from startups. The latter "will drive the conversation (on security in SDN) and likely show high growth," said IDC research director Pete Lindstrom.

Stopping startup momentum

In an attempt to stymie startup market share, established vendors are forming partnerships with SDN technology providers. Fortinet partners include HP, Pluribus Networks and Extreme Networks Inc.

"Some of the established security order will make the transition successfully and others will struggle to adapt," Casemore said. "There will be some changing of the guard, but it remains to be seen which will wax and which will wane."

While Cisco and VMware Inc. were not listed as partners, Fortinet said it would make separate announcements involving each of the companies in the future. Cisco and VMware are among the largest vendors driving the use of SDN in the enterprise data center.

Few corporations, other than communication companies, cloud providers and large financial institutions, have started deploying SDN in the data center. "SDN capabilities -- particularly for security -- are still pretty nascent," said Lindstrom.

SDN is expected to become an enabling technology for the many enterprises with plans to move application workloads from the data center to public clouds, such as Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services. When the migration begins in force, established vendors are likely to have an advantage over startups, Lindstrom said.

"To the extent this becomes common -- which I believe it will -- the traditional vendors have the edge, barring some revolutionary technology or system that I haven't seen yet," he said.

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