Network access control vendors: Attraction vs. retention

Network access control (NAC) vendors who are the most attractive to potential users aren't always the ones that are deployed and used, a recent study by Current Analysis found.

Network access control (NAC) vendors' marketing campaigns may make their products more attractive to companies, but smaller vendors still dominate when it comes to customer retention, according to recent statistics released by Current Analysis.

Andrew Braunberg, Current Analysis' research director, said his firm's annual NAC study found that a strong marketing budget and message put certain vendors at top of mind among companies considering and planning NAC deployments.

Not surprisingly, Cisco's Network Admission Control appliance and framework hold the top two spots respectively as the most attractive network access control solutions to potential customers who have not yet deployed NAC.

According to Current Analysis' study, 45% of respondents said they would consider putting Cisco's NAC appliance in their networks, while 41% said Cisco's NAC framework is also an attractive option. Cisco was closely followed by Microsoft's Network Access Protection, which 21% of respondents said they'd consider for their network access control deployment.

Check Point, Juniper Networks, Sygate/Symantec, 3Com/Tipping Point, Trend Micro, McAfee/Foundstone, HP ProCurve, IBM Tivoli, Nortel, CA and Bradford Networks rounded out the list of vendors that potential NAC users would consider or found attractive, ranging from 5% to 15% of respondents.

The survey took data from roughly 300 highly qualified respondents who are actively involved in NAC implementation or planning within their organizations.

Braunberg said Cisco led the pack of attractive vendors because the networking powerhouse has been hammering home its NAC message for almost three years, making the name Cisco nearly synonymous with network access control in the minds of IT professionals.

"Cisco's been banging this drum about NAC harder and longer than anyone else," he said. "They've been actively pushing it. No one has the mindshare that Cisco has. Cisco no doubt is attracting large numbers to try their products. You can see clearly that Cisco has been very effective at driving NAC awareness. Nobody comes close."

But while Cisco dominates in vendor attraction, the company falls near the middle when it comes to retention.

"The retention scores and the attraction scores are much different," Braunberg said.

Retention scores are the percentage of respondents who are NAC customers of a certain vendor and would consider that same vendor for future NAC investments.

CA topped the list of vendor retention scores with 81%, followed by Juniper Networks at 80%, Bradford Networks at 78%, Check Point at 71%, and Nortel at 71%. Rounding out the category were HP ProCurve, Cisco CNAC, Cisco NAC appliance, Microsoft, McAfee/Foundstone, Sygate Symantec, 3Com/TippingPoint, IBM Tivoli and Trend Micro.

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Braunberg is quick to point out that retention does not imply market share but does indicate that current users of those vendors' solutions are pleased with them and would continue using them going forward.

"It's a huge mix because NAC touches so many points in the infrastructure," he said. "There are a number of different players that make NAC solutions."

Braunberg said some of the vendors with high retention scores -- CA, IBM Tivoli and HP ProCurve, for example -- were surprising because those vendors don't push NAC solutions per se but may add some NAC components to their larger suites of products -- system, security, threat and identity management. At the same time, users vary in their perceptions of NAC. Some look at pure network access control; others consider host discovery, scanning and other security components as contributing to NAC.

"Professional services groups are delivering enough NAC functionality to make companies comfortable," Braunberg said. "Because the market continues to evolve, the big vendors have the mindshare but not always the market share. I wouldn't dismiss anyone from these results. It's a huge market from a vendor point of view. It's hard to differentiate yourself in a lot of ways. If you can find a good niche, you can certainly have success."

One surprising vendor earning a high retention score is Bradford Networks, he said, which last year's Current Analysis NAC study didn't even track. Bradford found its niche in education deployments and continued to gain momentum.

"This year's NAC study demonstrates again that no vendor can match Cisco in its ability to attract attention to its NAC solutions, and this is true for both its NAC appliance and the broader CNAC framework," Braunberg said. "What is interesting, however, is that many vendors are clearly meeting market demands and satisfying customer needs for NAC functionality, and this includes several of the smaller pure-play vendors."

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