I’m not going to pick a winner this early, but two factors will determine the winner if history is any guide.

1) The better management system

Check Point dominated the firewall market for a very long time primarily based on the easy of use and power of their firewall management. The difference between managing 20 Cisco PIX or Network Associates Gauntlet firewalls and Check Point was huge throughout the 90’s. It is surprising that Check Point still has this advantage although the gap has narrowed.

The contenders for the field firewall market have learned from this and are paying attention to their management solutions. It would be very interesting to do a bake off of the management systems and see if one is clearly superior.

2) Integration into field device platforms

So how did Cisco become a major player in the firewall market? It certainly wasn’t based on their product. Cisco won deals because they were at companies selling routers, switches, and other infrastructure equipment. They had Cisco devotees in those companies and adding a firewall or two to the stream of orders was not difficult. The same case can be made for the higher end controllers. Do you want a security module with your PLC?

The early score on this is in. Byres Security’s Tofino has MTL. Innominate MGuard has Hirschmann and a couple of others that are not announced but easy to guess if you play detective. Siemens has their own. The field on this is still wide open.

Meeting environmental specifications and other appliance hardening necessary field deployment may also knock out some vendors, but this is a ticket to entry and not necessarily a competitive advantage.

Update: Ralph brings up a good question in his comment – Is there a field security appliance market to win? We analyzed the business case in an earlier blog entry.