There are four reasons someone might be concerned with consolidation in the computer and network security industry:
1) For purchasers of security technology products and services: they want to make sure their vendor will still be able to maintain the product service after purchase
2) For security vendors VP Sales and CEOs: they are wondering how this consolidation is going to affect their ability to sell their product or service
3) For security vendor company Investors: they are concerned about how this will affect their "exit strategy"
4) For clients and candidates: wondering about how tight the job market is ("How hard will it be for me to find the right job?" or "How hard will it be for me to find the right person for this position?")
Consolidation affecting the Purchasing of Security Products and Services
At the end of 2002, Marcus Ranum wrote an article Dog Eat Dog talking about how security consolidations are creating problems for entities wanting to purchase the best security products (The full article can be found here: http://infosecuritymag.techtarget.com/2002/dec/logoff.shtml). "Best" becomes the products produced maintained by companies that will survive, not necessarily the best technically. How many security companies have been purchased since that article was written? Off the top of my head I can think of these:
Symantec Acquired Sygate
CheckPoint Acquired Sourcefire
Cisco Acquired IronPort
BT Aquired Counterpane
IBM Aquired Internet Security Systems
RSA Acquired Cyota
EMC Acquired RSA
McAfee Acquired Citadel Security Software
Juniper Acquired NetScreen
Am I forgetting any? In light of all this news, candidates and companies ask me the question about "consolidation in the industry". But they are asking for a different reason than a potential purchaser of a security product or service.
Consolidation affecting Product Sales
Marcus writes: ...customers will have to learn that a vendor's size doesn't mean that they'll survive the lean times. Savvy customers will start to examine vendors' financial records and management histories to try to avoid investing in futureless products. In some cases, this means you'll have to reject a good product in favor of an average one from a company that looks like it will survive. In the meantime, customers will have to learn that a vendor's size doesn't mean that they'll survive the lean times. Savvy customers will start to examine vendors' financial records and management histories to try to avoid investing in futureless products. In some cases, this means you'll have to reject a good product in favor of an average one from a company that looks like it will survive.
Of course, most people purchasing products aren't reading Marcus' articles or blog entries. If they did, they would sadly go with a more stable company over one that had better technology -- so they would decrease the risk of the product becoming extinct. The real main reasons are different, but related, in my mind. First, people want to buy from brands (well known brands, from bigger companies). Second, through packaging and embedding, the bigger branded companies are making it easy for purchasers to make the purchase -- many times with no discernable increase in price. If a small subset of the total security solution (let's say for example, messaging security) is being purchasing anyway, do you think you a purchaser will buy a technically superior niche product on top of this huge security solution package (which already includes an acceptable, but not perfect, messaging solution)? You tell me!
Consolidation affecting Exit Strategy
"Exit" is now synonymous with a) acquisition and/or b) IPO -- with acquisition being the strongly preferred way of exiting these days. IPO is so pre-internet bubble burst. But there is a third "exit", right -- building a profitable company the old fashioned way?
Back to Marcus: Investors never realize the kinds of profits they expect by simply growing a profitable business and collecting dividends; that's simply not done anymore, particularly in the high-tech marketplace. And as consolidations happen, this route appears more attractive to other smaller start up companies, with millions in cash and prizes to the founders. So my guess is that consolidation will feed more consolidation. It's not only perfectly acceptable to be acquired; it's an honor -- and a mark of achievement.
Consolidation affecting the Job Market
The acquisitions in our industry for the most part do not end up decreasing the people directly associated with the security practice. Mostly, companies are acquiring companies that will continue to function as business units. And because the acquired companies are niche players, the acquiring companies realize they can't afford to loose a single person with knowledge of that niche. This means Sales folks, Engineers, Developers, Product Managers and Product Marketing Managers are safe. Obviously positions that become redundant, are not necessarily safe, such as HR, finance, administration are not. This is generally speaking of course.
Consolidation's affect on the job market has to be considered in light of the "worker shortage" trend. By most prognostications, this new upcoming shortage will make previous shortages look pale by comparison. Even if the possibility exists that consolidation will somehow decrease the number of positions available, it will be more than offset by the ever increasing shortage of qualified candidates.
Another way the consolidation is affecting the job market is the changed perception on the part of a candidate towards any particular niche after an acquisition. Many candidates will wonder after an acquisition of a small niche player by a super-large branded company whether there will be able to be any real competition in the niche -- and does that mean sales will be fall flat -- and thus the company will day)? The positive side of that coin is that once a niche player is acquired (or goes IPO for that matter), it becomes "hot", at least for a little bit. And for many candidates, the prospect of joining a company with stock options becomes much more attractive.
Those are my thoughs. Please share yours.