Isovalent: The newly sought-after startup acquired by Cisco for its cloud-hosting capabilities and innovative security measures

Cisco announced this morning that it intends to acquire Isovalent, a cloud-native security and networking startup that should fit well with the company’s core networking and security strategy. Tetragon is the company’s open source security visibility component. Jeetu Patel, executive vice president and general manager of security and collaboration at Cisco said that it is essential for companies to work together where security is concerned. And we need to make sure that we stay open in this market and co-innovate, and I think open source is probably one of the best models to co-innovate with,” Patel said. Cisco has been extremely acquisitive this year with this representing the 11th acquisition by the company, the fifth related to security.

Cisco announced this morning that it plans to purchase Isovalent, a startup specializing in cloud-native security and networking. The acquisition aligns well with Cisco’s core strategy in these areas, although the specific purchase price was not disclosed.

Isovalent has been influential in the development of eBPF, an open source technology that provides in-depth insight into the operating system layer, typically Linux but also including Windows. Additionally, their project Cilium offers visibility into cloud-native applications, while Tetragon serves as the company’s open source security component.

Senior VP and General Manager of Cisco’s Security Business Group, Tom Gillis, explains that this triad of technologies was once delivered through hardware appliances, but in the ever-evolving cloud world, software is becoming increasingly prominent. In Gillis’ words to TechCrunch, “In a cloud world, there’s still boxes in there somewhere, but it’s abstracted under layers and layers of software. And so eBPF and Cilium provide that visibility for cloud world.”

Specifically, this means being able to closely monitor an application’s interaction with the network and determining whether it appears normal or not. Gillis elaborates, “What this allows anyone to do is to provide very high level of visibility into the inner workings of an application. So when one little container is talking to another container, Cilium can intercept and see that traffic, and it can also see the inner workings of the OS itself.”

He continues, saying, “So this becomes a platform that allows us to provide connectivity, like should this particular cluster talk to that particular cluster, yes or no. But also security inspection, like what are they talking about? Does this make sense? Does this thing look logical?”

It’s worth noting that Cilium is the default connectivity and security solution for a significant number of major players in the industry, such as Google Kubernetes Engine, Google Anthos, and Amazon EKS Anywhere. Some prominent companies utilizing Cilium include Adobe, Bell Canada, Capital One, Datadog, Palantir, IKEA, and Sky.

There’s always a level of uncertainty when a large company acquires a startup built on popular open source projects, as in this case. This could potentially cause consternation within both the community and among the big enterprises that have come to rely on this software. However, Gillis emphasizes that it’s in everyone’s best interest for the open source components to continue thriving as a standard.

“In order for that to happen, Cilium and eBPF need to thrive, and so the community needs to continue to embrace them because the ubiquity of the standard is what makes it so powerful,” he explains. He compares it to Google’s creation and open sourcing of Kubernetes, stating, “I oftentimes say it’s the Kubernetes of the data path. It’s an open standard that all can participate in, allows everyone to innovate on top of this platform, and build amazing products.”

Jeetu Patel, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Security and Collaboration at Cisco, stresses the importance of collaboration in the realm of security. “One of the challenges that we’ve said is the true enemy [in security] is not your competitor, it’s the [common] adversary. And we need to make sure that we stay open in this market and co-innovate, and I think open source is probably one of the best models to co-innovate with,” he states.

Cisco was already familiar with Isovalent prior to today’s announcement, as the company participated in Isovalent’s $29 million Series A funding round at the end of 2020. Isovalent then obtained a Series B of $40 million in 2022, with Cisco once again participating, as well as other strategic investors including Microsoft, Google, and Grafana Labs.

This announcement signifies Cisco’s eleventh acquisition this year, with five of those deals centered around security. By far the largest acquisition was the $28 billion investment in Splunk, which was announced in September.

The acquisition is expected to close during the second quarter of next year, Cisco’s fiscal year’s third quarter.

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Zara Khan

Zara Khan is a seasoned investigative journalist with a focus on social justice issues. She has won numerous awards for her groundbreaking reporting and has a reputation for fearlessly exposing wrongdoing.

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