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About a decade ago, engineers at FishNet Security—even then one of
the larger security integrators—noticed a problem in their customer
engagements: monitoring changes to firewall rule sets and optimizing
perimeter security effectiveness. The lack of transparency caused
firewall inefficiency and forced end users to buy more equipment than
necessary.

The solution that FishNet engineer Jody Brazil came up with was
FireMon, a homegrown application that monitored changes made to the
firewall’s configuration and rulesets (the instructions for how to deal
with traffic hitting the network perimeter). It was just the right
solution to solve the problem FishNet was encountering. And, best of
all, it had the added benefit of being unique.

“We saw a real legitimate need early on and we capitalized on it,”
says Gary Fish, founder and CEO of FishNet Security. “It funded itself
for years during the development process. There’s years of development
in the product and you just can’t shortcut that process. At first, all
I cared about was if we could build the product to be best in its space
and it can self-sustain, I was happy with that.”

Over time, though, FireMon evolved from simple command-line app in a
sales engineer’s toolkit to an application FishNet offered to its
customers. To truly capitalize on its creation, FishNet knew it would
need to channelize the product, which meant asking its peers and
competitors to carry FireMon. Obviously, that’s not a proposition that
competitors would be racing to adopt. So in 2004, FishNet founder and
CEO Gary Fish spun off the FireMon unit into a wholly separate
company—Secure Passage.

Five years since being spun out, Secure Passage may just be finding
its true niche in the marketplace waiting for it. As the recession cuts
into IT spending, end users are looking for ways to extend the life of
their existing infrastructure. One of FireMon’s value propositions is
being able to identify how many rulesets are in use and make
recommendations on which rules may be eliminated. The result is a
return to firewall efficiency and avoidance of buying newer, more
powerful equipment. Secure Passage is looking for its breakout year
amid a recession that’s tearing apart other vendors.

The lesson for other solution providers is the diversification of
value propositions and not always being reliant upon vendors to solve
the technology innovation problem. As Fish recounts the humble
beginnings of FireMon, it becomes evidently clear how different Secure
Passage’s creation is from that of the typical Silicon Valley start-up.

Tech entrepreneurs typically come up with some idea and develop a
proof of concept. They’ll then pitch that idea to venture capitalists
for funding, which helps them build out to a legitimate company. A good
recounting of that process is told by Dave Hitz, the co-founder of
NetApp, in his book “How to Castrate a Bull.” In the case of Secure
Passage, Fish says it’s a company that grew out of a product, and it
remains true to the core mission: solving the vexing customer problems.

Fish has no lofty expectations of building Secure Passage into the
next McAfee, Symantec or Check Point. Rather, his goal remains very
clear and steady: build the company up to the point where it has a
greater value and sell to a company that can incorporate it into its
security product line.

The spinning off of Secure Passage was by necessity to get other
security resellers to carry the product without the fear of directly
supporting FishNet’s bottom line. But there was another reason:
valuation. Software and hardware companies have a different measure of
determining the value of their business than a reseller or integrator
since the product company has a tangible asset by which to base future
revenue performance. Whether it’s a standalone company or as a division
of FishNet, FireMon helped improve the potential sale value of the
company.

Even if market valuation wasn’t a factor, FishNet’s development and
support of FireMon had another, more immediate benefit from its very
beginning: differentiation. While plenty of auditing and management
tools exist for firewalls and routers, FireMon is unique in its
discovery and recommendation engine. As a simple tool, FireMon provided
FishNet powerful mechanism for showing customers how to save money
while competitors were recommending higher spends to replace perfectly
good equipment.

The marketplace is evolving rapidly and customers need a reason to
spend money at all, much less spend with one company over another.
FishNet’s experience with FireMon serves as a perfect example of how
homegrown innovation and ingenuity can lead to better business and,
eventually, tangible financial rewards.

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

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