Protecting Our (Digital) Way of Life

I’m going to list three companies, and I’ll ask that you write down the first word that comes to mind as you hear the names: Google. Boeing. Xerox. (I’ll pause here, and hum a few bars of the Jeopardy song while you answer.) Now, if you are like most people, then your responses were something like Search, Airplanes, and Copiers. This result should come as no surprise, because these are established examples of highly-predictable brand connections.

For marketing managers, such free-flowing associations can be both a blessing and a curse. That is, the binding of airplanes-to-Boeing, or search-to-Google, can be great for the airplane and search businesses, but can also complicate expansion into new business areas. In the cases of Boeing and Google, such expansion plans are on-going. But in the case of Xerox, expansion from copiers to an endless list of attempted new product areas never quite materialized.

I had these challenges in mind as I spent some time today with industry veteran Janet Matsuda. Janet works, of course, for Palo Alto Networks – and if you’ve spent at least five minutes in our industry, then the product that comes to mind for her iconic employer is Next-Generation Firewalls. This is also a natural association, given the seminal role that Nir Zuk and his team played in the invention of the category. But the company aspires to a more aggressive role.

“We are so proud of our world-class, next-generation firewalls for the enterprise,” Janet explained to me, “but recognize that Palo Alto Networks is truly committed to our broad mission of serving as the premier enterprise security company in the world – and that our over-arching goal as an organization is to protect our way of life in the digital age.”

Now, that, my dear reader, is an ambitious mission statement. Let me share with you what I learned about how Palo Alto Networks is working to meet this objective. Their approach is rooted in three pillars of enterprise protection ecosystem: Automation, analytics, and cloud. Each of these attributes is viewed at Palo Alto Networks as playing an essential role in addressing the stiff challenges of advanced cyber threats. Let’s examine each in turn:

Automation involves the use of technology to prevent errors, streamline processes, and reduce cycle times for the essential tasks that address all phases of the attack lifecycle. One way this is accomplished at Palo Alto Networks is through their innovative Application Framework. “We work with an extensive ecosystem of partners,” Janet said, “to support applications that can help automate tasks such as provisioning and management of new security innovations.”

In the broader sense, it should be obvious that without attention to automation in security, the pay-offs of modern digital transformation can go somewhat awry. Consider for example, that while enterprise teams are investing in automation for IT and infrastructure, malicious actors are similarly developing automated, synthetic attacks that work fast. So, if we really do want to secure our digital way of life, then automation of security defenses is a firm requirement.

Analytics provides security teams with correlative and now machine learning-based methods to derive accurate intelligence from collected or existing data. As most of you already know, Palo Alto Networks is instrumental in providing real-time analytics capabilities to its customers through the iconic WildFire malware analysis capabilities for detecting unknown threats and automatically stopping them.

A more recent innovation led by Palo Alto Networks involves making security analytics more available and accessible to enterprise teams. “We’ve worked hard in the development of our platform,” Janet said, “to give access to partners and users to crunch and use existing data. And, on the back end, we can use the results of this analysis to take enforcement actions and ensure effective mitigation.”

Cloud is the new playing field for enterprise teams – and Palo Alto Networks recognizes the evolution of the architecture in this direction. Its acquisitions of for cloud protection, and Secdo for endpoint detection and response, position the company to support the full device-to-cloud ecosystem that is so prominent in most emerging enterprise architectures, especially for mid-market, but increasingly for larger companies.

Cloud protection requires solutions for software-as-a-service, as well as infrastructure, storage, and platform-as-a-solution deployments. All are central to the Palo Alto Networks strategy, and all serve to round out the variety of products offered by the company, for all sizes of enterprise, across all global sectors. “We are a highly-diversified company, with more than a third of our business in subscriptions,” Janet explained.

When you examine the overall solution approach at Palo Alto Networks, their strategy makes perfect sense: The company starts with an embedded base of next-generation firewall deployments (and its virtual NGFW solution is apparently growing dramatically) – and then extends this base into logically adjacent areas, with strict attention to open systems, industry partnerships, and analytics-driven automation.

The challenges Palo Alto Networks faces are the usual ones that every cyber security market leader must address in their solution strategy: A growing number of vendors in our industry, increasing solution fatigue amongst enterprise teams limping through aisle-after-aisle at RSA, and the many exaggerated claims of advanced analytic-based solutions from companies with trouble backing up such broad claims. These are the inevitable potholes of our cyber industry.

But with the capable management team in place at Palo Alto Networks, combined with an impressive technology culture and loyal base of customers, it seems well within reach for the company to make a significant dent in reducing the most serious threats to our digital world. I’m hoping they reach this goal – because their use of automation, analytics, and cloud to deliver security at scale, across the globe, will make us all more secure.

Perhaps you should give the fine team at Palo Alto Networks a call, and ask them to explain their vision. As always, once you’ve heard the story, please make sure to share your learning and insights with all of us.