Whither Cisco MARS?

Cisco's offering for security and compliance management has languished, leaving the company with three choices: admit defeat, double down, or acquire a replacement product.

Jon Oltsik
Jon Oltsik is a senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group. He is not an employee of CNET.
Jon Oltsik
2 min read

Cisco System's Security Monitoring for Threat Identification, Mitigation, and Compliance (aka MARS) product is the company's offering for security and compliance management, competing with the likes of ArcSight, RSA Security, and Symantec. The MARS product came via Cisco's acquisition of Protego for $65 million in December 2004.

Cisco Systems

Through 2005 and 2006, Cisco pushed this product into end-user accounts through an aggressive scorched-earth effort. Cisco intended to get the product out into the market quickly, establish a base, and then continually add product enhancements over time. This seems to be where the strategy hit a speed bump.

The product languished behind competitive offerings, causing problems with the installed base. This opened the door for aggressive competitors: Enterasys, Juniper, and Nortel established partnerships with Q1 Labs in a direct attack on MARS. Log management vendors like LogLogic and LogRhythm out-flanked Cisco with incremental products. Worst of all, some Cisco sales executives and channel partners eschewed MARS in favor of more popular Cisco products. When you have a portfolio of hundreds of products, it is easy to lead with your best stuff and never mention those in the doghouse.

This brings up a reasonable question: What should Cisco do with MARS? As I see it, Cisco has three choices:

  1. Admit defeat and get out. Cisco could bury MARS and partner with others in the industry. GE would take this route but I can't imagine that Cisco will.

  2. Double down on MARS development. MARS 6.0 was released earlier this year and it did move the ball forward but the product remains way behind others in the market. Management software has always been a bit of an Achilles' heel for Cisco.

  3. Replace MARS with another acquisition. There are plenty available at bargain prices. Cisco could bid on publicly traded ArcSight, grab a legacy Security Information Management vendor like Intellitactics or NetForensics, pick up a log management player, or take a chance on a wildcard like Nitro or Splunk.

There may be some analysis paralysis going on within Cisco as this issue has been lingering for a while. With security one of the only IT bright spots for 2009, Cisco should probably address this issue soon.