Word on the street is that Cisco and Splunk are in discussions about a possible acquisition. Splunk, the technology monitoring, search and analytics company could be acquired by Cisco—originally a networking company but now a complex hardware and software conglomerate.

Splunk has generated quite a reputation as a ‘dealer’ over the years. The company, much like a drug dealer, gets you hooked and then, when you can’t live without what they’re selling, makes you pay. The difference is that what they’re selling is insight and visibility into your own data.

For many years, Splunk’s pricing model was simple—customers paid for the amount of data that was ingested. Splunk didn’t invent this type of pay-for-what-you-use-and-consume model. For mainframe workloads, IBM has long charged clients based on millions of instructions per second, or MIPS. Likewise, the entire cloud computing business model is based on a pay-for-what-you-use model. If, for example, you leave an AWS experimental instance running over the weekend or while you’re a vacation, you’re going to pay for it (many of us have learned that the hard way).

So why am I picking on Splunk for being a dealer? The whole value proposition of Splunk is that the more data it ingests, the more useful the software platform can be. Splunk can help operations and security teams connect disparate data points to uncover potential emerging problems or greatly reduce the time it takes to resolve an incident. However, to unlock the power, you need to push more and more (and more and more) data into Splunk.

But here is where Splunk gets down and dirty: Like any dealer, Splunk will give teams free trials and the ability to ingest data from new areas of your business for free. Once a team starts to see the value and is hooked on the software, the Splunk sales team is right there to take your money.

Splunk now offers other pricing models, but the stigma sticks.

Splunk Customers are the Company’s Best Salespeople

Splunk has done an excellent job at creating evangelists out of their existing client base. I’ve attended a lot of vendor conferences, and my experience is that Splunk’s customers are some of the most enthusiastic I’ve ever encountered. What does user enthusiasm tell me about a vendor’s product? It is either that the product is making that employee a superstar within their company or making that employee highly desirable across the broader technology market.

At Splunk events when I have candid conversations with customers, the adoption pattern follows a fairly standardized script. The IT operations team adopted Splunk. IT operations had a ton of success and shared that with the rest of IT. Security saw ops’ success and wanted to try Splunk out for themselves. In many cases, the cybersecurity use case within the company became the bigger Splunk deployment once the platform’s capabilities were understood.

So Why Would Splunk Sell?

Customers like Splunk and they’re obviously seeing value. So, why would a company like that ever sell? Well, first of all, the SIEM 2.0 market vanished; security log data analysis is table stakes. What do I mean by that?

So Long, SIEM

The idea of security information and event management (SIEM) hasn’t gone anywhere, but now security vendors need to do more than just SIEM.

It wasn’t long ago that those of use following the security industry tracked RSA Netwitness, Logrhythm, IBM Qradar, HPE ArcSight, RSA Archer, Carbon Black and other SIEM vendors. The reality is that all of these companies have gone through massive transformations. Those of you reading this article might be surprised by the companies that now own many of these SIEM vendors!

Splunk is no longer unique in its approach to applying machine learning and artificial intelligence to security log data.

AIOps—The Company Lost its Focus

Splunk cut its teeth with operations teams. The company helped ops teams quickly find the root cause of disruptions and spot problems before the pain was felt by customers. However, operations isn’t sexy. Rather than doubling and tripling down on operations, the company expanded to security. It made sense; security organizations deal with huge amounts of complex data.

However, as DevOps rose to prominence, Splunk has been widely left out of the conversation. DevOps teams need software tools that can normalize data across job function-specific software platforms. This would have been a perfect opportunity for Splunk—however, new competition stepped in to fill this gap.

The World Evolved—Businesses Need Observability

SIEM 2.0 was hot—“was” being the operative word. Today, DevOps and DevSecOps teams are looking for observability offerings. Observability tools provide teams with the ability to understand and see what is going on within systems and software from a variety of perspectives. Observability platforms can view system and cloud health and resiliency, but can also give operations teams container-level data.

Enter the Observability Vendors

By no means is this a comprehensive list, but my colleagues at Techstrong Research and I have come up with a list of observability vendors you should be paying attention to. Some of these vendors are pure-play observability companies while others, like Splunk, have a variety of offerings.

  •   Splunk
  •   Sumo Logic
  •   Logz.io
  •   StackState
  •   Lightstep (acquired by ServiceNow)
  •   Dynatrace
  •   App Dynamics
  •   VMware – Tanzu
  •   AWS CloudWatch
  •   Azure 
  •   Honeycomb.io
  •   Grafana Labs

Acquisitions

  •   IBM acquired Instana for observability and Turbonomics for AIOps
  •   Cisco acquired Epsagon
  •   Cisco acquired AppDynamic for $3.7B for application performance management/monitoring
  •   VMware acquired Mesh7
  •   GitLab acquired observability distribution Opstrace 
  •   NewRelic acquired CodeStream
  •   Splunk acquired SignalFX, FlowMill and Omnition
  •   ServiceNow acquired Lightstep

Within the observability space, there is also a tremendous amount of open source. Many vendors are coalescing around the OpenTelemetry project, for instance, that focuses on collecting data. This type of open source use makes sense—vendors should focus on areas of differentiation and customer value rather than just data collection.

Open Source related projects

  • Prometheus
  • OpenTracing and OpenCensus from Google (folded into OpenTelemetry)
  • Zipkin (Twitter) one of the first open source tracing projects

Why Would Cisco Want Splunk?

Splunk’s stock has been in decline since its CEO left in Q4 of 2021. Like other technology companies, inflation and a general technology sell-off is further impacting its stock price. In addition, the company is transitioning clients to cloud-based offerings, which is often a painful process for public companies (many companies have gone private to eschew Wall Street’s prying eyes).

Cisco has, historically, occupied the network layer. Splunk understands network data and can offer many benefits to Cisco clients.

 Splunk is an enterprise software vendor that can scale in a non-linear way if Cisco can add stability to Splunk’s leadership and vision.

Now, will the deal for Splunk get done at $20 billion? No. But a possible acquisition is very possible, especially given the fact that Splunk’s runway is short and getting shorter.