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Edgar Allen Poe, the first American master of the macabre, provides the
theme of this year’s RSA Conference—the
largest gathering of security vendors, resellers and professionals—which opens
today in San Francisco.

What does a writer who plied stories about ghouls and madness have to do
with security? His classic poem "The Raven" is hardly a parable for
computer threats or network security (although you could make the case that it
may reflect the madness and futility often felt by security professionals).

Poe is the perfect icon for information security, since he had a gift for
obscurity and an uncanny ability to perfectly piece together tiles to a puzzle
long before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle conjured Sherlock Holmes. Simply put, he was
a master of both deception and deduction.

While my personal Poe favorite is "The Cast of the Amontillado,"
his "The Purloined Letter" is a more apt story for the RSA
Conference. Not to ruin the story, "The Purloined Letter" has a
wonderful subtext about not looking too closely for clues for fear of missing
the big picture. I say this is a more apt reflection of security because the RSA
Conference is replete with vendors hocking wares that are often smaller details
in the fabric of security.

At last year’s RSA Conference, people
wandering in and around the Moscone Center
asked what I thought was hot and what the buzz was. There was a painfully
obvious attempt to generate buzz around data loss prevention and the then-contrived
term “governance and regulatory compliance,” or GRC.
As I walked the cavernous exhibit floor, I was struck by the number of
companies that had singular purposes, the number of small vendors that I had
seen at my first RSA Conference in 2001, and
the number of companies that had features but no real product.

From a financial analyst and venture capitalist perspective, the RSA
Conference was dominated by small companies that seemed desperate for an acquisition
parent. From an end-user—particularly enterprise—perspective, the exhibit floor
was full of vendors that had some interesting capabilities but represented
risk, high integration costs and low long-term ROI.

But from a solution provider perspective, the RSA
Conference is "The Purloined Letter." I suspect that this year’s
conference will be no different from last year’s, and there will be numerous
vendors that have offerings that are more like features than products. That’s
not good news for enterprise customers, but it’s wonderful news for security
integrators and solution providers. By piecing together these disparate pieces
of technology and features, solution providers can leverage the best of small
vendors’ innovation to create holistic solutions that provide real value to end
users.

Solution providers should take a hard look at the technologies being
showcased at RSA this year. While there’s
always talk about consolidation in the security industry and melding of
security technologies, that process often takes years to accomplish and then
years more to see a meaningful product emerge. Solution providers should look
for innovative, standards-based technologies to use as building blocks to
unique, custom and holistic products under their brand.

Of course, dealing with smaller security vendors comes at a risk. The RSA
Conference is a feeding pool for large vendors looking to expand their
portfolios. Solution providers may prefer working with a smaller vendor to
avoid over-distribution of product or swimming in an overcrowded channel. However,
if the vendor’s technology is really good, they may eagerly sell to a large
vendor and defeat the utility of their product as a building block.

If you take a step back and look at the RSA
Conference much the way the detective in "The Purloined Letter"
looked at the puzzle before him, you’ll see that wondrous breadth of
technologies and innovations in the security industry. The RSA
Conference is a chance to create and solve a puzzle that resolves to a picture
of value. That’s the opportunity for solution providers.

Lawrence M. Walsh is vice president and group publisher of Channel Insider.

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