Fortinet's acquisition of Wi-Fi equipment maker Meru Networks catapults the network security vendor into competition with Cisco and Hewlett-Packard in the hot wireless LAN market.
Fortinet, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., announced the $44 million deal this week. Wireless companies have become acquisition targets as enterprises turn to Wi-Fi networks to support the shift in computing from PCs to mobile devices.
Fortinet plans to use its security technology to make Meru's products a stronger competitor against Cisco and HP, which also have security portfolios. Cisco bought cloud-based wireless network maker Meraki in 2012 for $1.2 billion while HP acquired rival Aruba Networks this year for $2.7 billion.
"This [acquisition] brings a new aspect of competition because now you'll be able to unify wireless access and security," said Nemertes Research analyst Matthew Craig.
In acquiring Meru, Fortinet gets its wireless cloud controllers, access points and software-defined networking (SDN) software. Meru's SDN technology is based on specifications developed by the Open Networking Foundation, and helps to manage wireless networks and provision devices.
Meru's products will fill out Fortinet's wireless LAN technology, which include access points integrated with security appliances. "Fortinet didn't really have a control piece for wireless, it was just kind of added into their security platform," said Craig.
Meru customer optimistic
Bellarmine College Preparatory is a Meru customer. The private high school, which has used Fortinet firewalls in the past, is optimistic about the acquisition, said Chris Carey, technology director at the school.
Unlike Meru, Fortinet's Wi-Fi products weren't competitive in the education space. With the acquisition, Fortinet could position Meru's cloud-based Wi-Fi XPress product against Cisco Meraki, Carey said.
"Fortinet might be targeting the SDN sauce that Meru has been cooking up to help it expand in that growing space even further," he said.
Meru's technology is known for its single-channel architecture that allows the network, not the client, to decide which access points to roam between. A single-channel approach could also be a good fit for a secure wireless portfolio, Craig said. That's because this architecture is useful for environments that see a lot of guest devices, like healthcare and education, that need to be managed.
Along with the acquisition news, Fortinet announced FortiGuard Mobile, a subscription-based security service for protecting mobile devices from cyber threats. The product will be available in the third quarter, which is when the Meru acquisition is expected to close.