Cisco goes Christmas shopping, buys Cilium project originator Isovalent

Switchzilla likes what eBPF does for multicloud networking and security

Cisco has bought itself a Christmas present: Isovalent, the startup that originated Cilium, an open source networking, observability, and security tool recently graduated to full project status by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

As explained in Isovalent's "we're being acquired and that's awesome" statement, the project's founders worked on Cilium for a year or so before starting the biz with an aim to popularize the extended Berkeley Packet Filter (eBPF).

EBPF is already very popular because, as explained on its website, the tech allows sandboxed programs to run in a privileged context – such as the operating system kernel.

Doing so means "application developers can run eBPF programs to add additional capabilities to the operating system at runtime."

Hyperscalers adopted eBPF widely to oversee comms across their clouds. Google Kubernetes Engine, Google Anthos, and Amazon EKS Anywhere are all known eBPF devotees.

Networking, observability, and security capabilities have proven to be among the more popular capabilities eBPF allows.

Networking, observability, and security are also core focuses for Cisco, which invested early in Isovalent.

Now the networking giant will take control.

Tom Gillis, senior veep and general manager of Cisco's security business group pledged Switchzilla won't change the open source status of Cilium or other FOSS projects in which Isovalent has a hand. Indeed, Cisco "intends to create an independent advisory board to help steer Cisco's contributions to these important efforts in a way that is aligned with the needs of the open source community."

But Cisco also sees plenty to like about Isovalent's approach to multicloud security and networking capabilities.

"Isovalent's Cilium Mesh complements Cisco software-defined networking solutions and together would give customers seamless and secure networking from the branch office to the datacenter, to the public cloud, using one continuous mesh," Gillis wrote. He added his view that Cisco's Talos threat intelligence platform, combined with Isovalent's smarts, "will together build leading-edge protection for any workload on any cloud."

Which should come in handy as orgs try to understand how to secure apps that span many clouds and on-prem infrastructure.

Thomas Graf, the CTO & co-founder of Isovalent, co-creator of Cilium, and chair of the eBPF Governing Board, wrote that when Cisco initiated acquisition talks the networking titan "came to the table with a clear vision to double down on our products and our open source strategy with a strong commitment to our open source projects."

In Cisco's official announcement of the acquisition, head of open source Stephen Augustus is quoted as saying "Isovalent's team will join Cisco's deep bench of open source governance and technical leadership to solve complex cloud native, security, and networking challenges. Their knowledge will accelerate innovation across the business and help further strengthen the Cisco Security Cloud platform to meet the growing demands of our customers."

Cisco's turning as many of its products as possible into cloudy platforms – both to encourage customers to sign on for subscription services and because it believes delivering services from the cloud, at scale, is necessary to manage modern networks.

Financial details of the deal haven't been disclosed, but Cisco has advised it will close in the third quarter of its current financial year – which translates to between March and May 2024. ®

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