Gartner December 2011 Firewall Magic Quadrant Comments

Gartner just released their 2011 Enterprise Firewall Magic Quadrant 21 months since their last one just days before Christmas. Via distribution from one of the firewall manufacturers, I received a copy today. Here are the key highlights:

  • Palo Alto Networks moved up from the Visionary to Leader quadrant
  • Juniper slid back from the Leader to the Challenger quadrant
  • Cisco remained in the Challenger quadrant
  • There are no manufacturers in the Visionary quadrant

In fact, there are only two manufacturers in the Leader quadrant Рthe aforementioned Palo Alto Networks and Check Point. And these two manufacturers are the only ones to the right of center!!

Given Gartner’s strong belief in the value of Next Generation Firewalls, one might conclude that both of these companies actually do meet Gartner’s 2009 research paper outlining the features of a NGFW. Unfortunately that is not the case today. Check Point’s latest generally available release simply does not meet Gartner’s NGFW requirements.

So the question is, why did Gartner include them in the Leader quadrant? The only explanation I can think of is that their next release meets their NGFW criteria. Gartner alludes to Project Gaia which is in beta at a few sites but says only that it is a blending of Check Point’s three different operating systems. So let’s follow through on this thought experiment. First, this would mean that none of the other vendors will meet Gartner’s NGFW criteria in their next release. If any of them did, why wouldn’t they too be placed to the right of center?

Before I go on, let’s review what a NGFW is. Let’s start with a basic definition of a firewall – a network security device that enables you to define a “Positive Control Model” about what traffic is allowed to pass between two network segments of different trust levels. By Positive Enforcement Model I mean you define what is allowed and deny everything else. Another term for this is “default deny.”

Traditional stateful firewalls enable this Positive Control Model at the port and protocol levels. NGFWs do this also but most importantly do this at the application level. In fact, an NGFW enables policies that combine port, protocol, and application (and more).¬†Stateful inspection firewalls have no ability to control applications sharing open ports. Some have added application identification and blocking to their IPS modules, but this is a negative enforcement model. In other words, block what I tell you to block and allow everything else. Some have called this the “Wack-A-Mole” approach to application control.

In order then to qualify as a NGFW, the core traffic analysis engine has to be built from the ground up to perform deep packet inspection and application detection at the beginning of the analysis/decision process to allow or deny the session. Since that was Palo Alto Networks’ vision when they were founded in 2005, that’s what they did. All the other firewall manufacturers have to start from scratch and build an entirely new platform.

So let’s pick up where I left off three paragraphs ago, i.e. the only traditional stateful inspection firewall manufacturer that might have a technically true NGFW coming in its next release is Check Point. Since Palo Alto Networks shipped its first NGFW in mid-2007, this would mean that Check Point is, at best, four and half years, four major releases, and six thousand customers behind Palo Alto Networks.

On the other hand, if Check Point is in the Leader quadrant because it’s Palo Alto Networks’ toughest competitor, then Palo Alto Networks is in even a better position in the firewall market.