Fortinet says it’s all about the security ASICs

Xie claims his custom chips lower infosec computing costs by up to 10x

As security and networking converge, Fortinet CEO Ken Xie believes the company he co-founded will win this particular $200bn market with its custom application-specific ICs, or ASIC chips.

"On day one, 22 years ago, we leveraged ASIC technology to lower computing costs, increase computing power, and also add additional performance and more function," Xie said, speaking at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom conference this week.

Using its custom ASICs to accelerate security and networking tasks lowers customers' security computing costs by as much as 10x compared to using CPUs, he claimed. This becomes even more important as multi-cloud, 5G with 6G on the horizon, and the convergence of IT and operational technology environments expand, while an onslaught of traffic from applications, users, and devices put greater demands on network equipment and defenses.

"The old technology cannot meet all the demand," Xie argued.

Unlike some traditional switches and routers that can't determine context of an application, user, or device, Fortinet's internal segmentation is context aware, he added. "So that's where the ASIC basically does the same as like the GPU, TPU or IPU," Xie said.

This technology segments network and infrastructure assets across multiple clouds and in on-premises data centers, which Xie said better protects customers from ransomware and other threats that spread laterally through networks. Fortinet is not the only designer of network silicon, we must note: it is a competitor within a wide landscape of specialist processing units, including next-gen FPGAs and accelerators attached to host servers.

Essentially, these kinds of chips offload the work of filtering network packets and applying policies from a general-purpose processor, and handle it in dedicated hardware. This can mean more throughput for routing and checking incoming, internal, and outgoing traffic, for one thing.

"If you want to have this zero-trust environment, you have to have network security go inside the company, go inside the data center to handle both the north-south traffic and east-west traffic," Xie continued. "The need is all there. And it all depends on who can solve this issue, increase the speed, because there's almost like a one-to-100 gap."

Fortinet has a 40 percent market share in the network security space, according to Xie. That's larger than its next five closest competitors' shares combined, he claimed. "Last year the whole product revenue grew 47 percent," he said. "And the last quarter, the booking of the product probably grew over 60 percent."

Morgan Stanley has said the actual figure is 37 per cent.

Looking ahead to the rest of the year and beyond, Xie said he expects this network and security convergence to continue to boost Fortinet's growth. 

He cited Gartner and IDC's cloud security market forecasts, and put that market at $20bn over the next four or five years.

"The network security is still two-times to three-times larger, and still a more healthy growth," he said. "Then, if we see the convergence of network and security, for us the total addressable market will be almost $200bn." ®

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