Since replacing John Chambers as Cisco's (CSCO) - Get Report CEO last year, Chuck Robbins has talked early and often about how the security market is a priority for his company. Recent earnings reports suggest rivals might be feeling the heat.
Palo Alto Networks (PANW) - Get Report, the top player in the growing next-gen firewall market, was down about 8% Wednesday afternoon after providing soft October quarter guidance, along with a July quarter sales beat and in-line EPS. Annual revenue growth is forecast to drop to 33% to 35% from the July quarter's 41% and the April quarter's 48%.
A slew of Palo Alto's security tech peers, including CyberArk (CYBR) - Get Report, Barracuda Networks (CUDA) , Imperva (IMPV) - Get Report and Qualys (QLYS) - Get Report, are also lower, with the PureFunds ISE Cyber Security ETF (HACK) - Get Reportfalling 0.7%.
Palo Alto's numbers come after Fortinet (FTNT) - Get Reportand Check Point (CHKP) - Get Report sold off due to the subdued outlooks provided with their June quarter reports. In addition, Juniper Networks (JNPR) - Get Report, which has been losing security share for a while, reported its security revenue fell 27% in the June quarter, and forecast the business would remain "a headwind" in the near-term.
Industry-wide demand trends are playing some role here. Though still outpacing broader IT spending growth, corporate security spending doesn't seem to be growing as fast as it did during much of 2015, when enterprises spent heavily on cybersecurity hardware and software in response to major hacking incidents at Sony (SNE) - Get Report, Anthem (ANTM) - Get Report, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and other firms and institutions.
And for companies like Palo Alto and FireEye, sales mix changes are also a culprit. The firms are deriving more and more of their revenue from subscription services that, compared with hardware and software license sales, result in relatively small amounts of revenue being recorded up-front.
In Palo Alto's case, the company forecast that recurring services revenue, which covers both maintenance revenue and fast-growing subscription services such as WildFire (malware protection) and Traps (endpoint protection), will account for about 60% of revenue in fiscal 2017, which ends in July 2017. That's up from 52% in the fourth quarter.
But it's also hard to overlook just how many companies have reported seeing intense price competition, while suggesting Cisco is at least one of the culprits. Fortinet mentioned on its earnings call it's seeing discounting from "incumbent" security hardware firms, a term that's code for the likes of Cisco, Check Point and Juniper. Palo Alto suggested it's seeing aggressive pricing from "legacy" firewall providers, while insisting its win rates remain strong.
Check Point admitted on its call it's discounting in "certain areas" such as maintenance, partly due to the pricing actions of rivals. Juniper also reported witnessing security price pressure.
Cisco's drive to grow its security exposure in the Robbins era clearly seems to be playing a role here. Since June 2015, the company has shelled out over $1.3 billion to buy three security companies: OpenDNS, a provider of security software and services relying on domain name analytics; Lancope, a developer of analytics software used to probe network traffic and identify the source of a threat; and CloudLock, a developer of software for protecting cloud apps.
Cisco has also been busy revamping its security lineup. In April 2015, the company launched next-gen firewalls and malware-protection and incident-response services aimed squarely at Palo Alto and FireEye. More recently, Cisco rolled out the Stealthwatch Learning Network, which uses technology obtained from Lancope to let Cisco routers detect malicious network traffic.
The efforts are paying off: Cisco's security product revenue rose 16% in the July quarter to $540 million, and (thanks to software and services growth) its security deferred revenue balance rose 29%.
From the looks of things, some of that growth has come with the help of discounts that have made life more difficult for rivals.