In recent GigaOm research, we evaluated whether there was a good argument to use a single security partner to protect an organization or if multiple “best of breed” solutions are still the way to go.
We looked at two use cases. Microsoft, using the broad capabilities of its M365 E3 platform with its E5 security add-on, compared to selecting individual solutions from several leading enterprise security vendors, including Crowdstrike, OKTA and Proofpoint.
The research consisted of cost analysis, technical comparisons, and conversations with senior IT decision-makers to understand some of the criteria they used when evaluating technology.
Our analysis showed that technically and commercially, Microsoft’s tools and services offer an attractive single-vendor proposition. However, it also uncovered that, while this was the case, there was also a pervading attitude from a number of CxOs, that not only was Microsoft not their primary choice, but for some, they would not even consider Microsoft as a security partner.
That raised the question as to whether Microsoft did, in fact, present a strong enough proposition to be a single security partner for an enterprise and whether it was possible to overcome the concerns of CxOs. To attempt to answer those questions, we wanted to review our research and bring a fresh CxO perspective to it. To do that, we enrolled our own CTO, Howard Holton, to provide additional CxO insight into the results of our work.
The research around Microsoft as a security partner
The aim of this post is not to share all the research. It is to provide a summary of our findings which can help answer some of the questions decision-makers would ask when evaluating a single-vendor versus multi-vendor approach for cybersecurity tools and services.
Before providing that summary, it is useful to outline the scope of our research. It is important to note that this was not a hands-on technical evaluation, detailed functionality testing, or TCO analysis. The scope of the research was to provide a C-level briefing that looked at the following;
- Solution capabilities
- High-level cost analysis
- Other operational overhead/business risks
We evaluated these areas to understand whether the single-vendor versus multi-vendor approach could;
- Reduce complexity
- Reduce cost
- Maintain/enhance security
We applied these questions across several business security challenges. The Microsoft E5 Security Add-on covers each of these areas, and we compared that to the vendor listed in each category;
- Endpoint including mobile – Crowdstrike
- Identity Management – Okta
- Email Security including BEC, phishing protection, virus, and malware defense – Proofpoint
- MFA and adaptive access controls – Okta/Proofpoint
- Tools to monitor threat and failure – Crowdstrike
- Data Loss Prevention and Associated Data Security Technologies – Proofpoint
- Cloud Application Security/Cloud Access Service Broker – Proofpoint
These areas accurately reflect the key security focus we find in all types of organizations. Therefore, evaluating the capability of any tool against them was a useful way to compare features and capability, their cost, and whether they would meet the needs of an organization’s modern security demands.
The pros and cons of Microsoft as a security partner
Microsoft’s E3 + E5 Security add-on offers a comprehensive range of security tools for users of its Microsoft 365 and Azure services. Its breadth of capability would provide an organization with wide-reaching security and comprehensive protection through a single vendor.
The Microsoft Security Toolset
Microsoft’s security coverage is broad and split across a number of core service suites. This includes;
- Microsoft Defender for EDR, anti-virus, Cloud App protection, anti-phishing, and data loss prevention across desktop, server, Mac, mobile, and of course, Cloud
- Microsoft Entra provides identity protection
- Exchange Online Protection defends against phishing and BEC and offers malware protection
This range of security tools is tightly integrated into Microsoft Azure and M365 to provide customers with a comprehensive, seamless security experience. For those customers, the research highlighted that the single vendor, single platform approach reduces both technical and commercial complexity, making a compelling security offering.
Why were CxO’s not embracing Microsoft’s compelling offering?
While Microsoft did make a strong single-vendor case, why did potential customers and their security decision-makers meet this with the view that “Microsoft is not even a consideration” when evaluating security solutions and partners?
Reasons for not choosing Microsoft
What were some of the key reasons we discovered?
- I do not want to spend even more with Microsoft.
- While the solutions are broad, I don’t believe their capabilities are as good as specialist vendors.
- I do not want all my security eggs in one basket.
- The pricing of migration from my current providers is significant.
- Can they provide me with hands-on threat response support?
- Is their threat response tool something I could reclaim via my cyber insurance?
Are these valid concerns?
While all concerns are valid during our research, we found evidence that could be used to help answer some of them. This does not mean the concerns are wrong, but they provide additional context that may alter a potential customer’s perception.
I do not want to spend more with Microsoft
There are good commercial reasons why this may be the case. We did also find that there was a very strong financial case made for the single-vendor approach.
Based on published pricing, our research saw potential savings close to 80% when using the Microsoft E5 security add-on compared to using three individual vendors*. While there may be commercial reasons not to spend more with Microsoft, this is a significant figure, and one that should make for closer examination, especially where budgets are under ever-increasing pressure.
Microsoft’s capabilities are not as good as specialist vendors
This is a complex question, and as the research was not based on functionality testing, it was not definitively answered here. However, we have found in other GigaOm research that Microsoft’s capabilities score highly in our security-based reports.
It should also be considered that the single-vendor approach will reduce the complexity that multiple vendors can create. We also discovered that Microsoft’s E5 approach is extremely comprehensive and filled gaps that were left by the multiple leading vendors we also evaluated.
I do not want a single vendor
The value of using multiple best-of-breed vendors has advantages. To understand if that is a valid concern in any given instance, it is important to understand why the multi-vendor approach is preferred and what it offers that a single vendor cannot. We found Microsoft’s approach technically and commercially attractive. Our findings certainly made a case for the re-appraisal of the single vendor approach in these instances.
Cost of migration
This is a strong and valid concern. As IT budgets remain strained, migration costs may bring unwelcome additional pressure. This should not mean it should not be considered, as there are potentially long-term savings to be had. However, organizations should study the length of this return to ascertain its viability.
Threat response and cyber insurance
One of the major questions raised when comparing Microsoft with other leading vendors was its capability to provide threat response if a cyber incident should occur. While Microsoft can indeed cover threat response, we found service definitions and costs less clear during our research than those of competitors such as Crowdstrike.
An additional concern was whether they would be covered under cyber insurance when engaging in such services. Both concerns are significant and would require full clarity when evaluating adopting or changing or single security vendor approach.
What were the three key advantages we discovered?
In exploring this with GigaOm’s CTO Howard Holton, we discovered several key advantages of the single vendor approach that the diligent tech evaluator should consider. None of these things is to say Microsoft or any single vendor is the right answer, but there is a case to explore, and as Howard mentioned at the end of our research, “at least we’d have Microsoft in the conversation”.
- Cost reduction: the potential here is significant. While it should never be the main criterion, it is a consideration in a world of under-pressure budgets. Our comparison of Microsoft’s E3/E5 Add-on versus an amalgamated leading vendor approach showed potential savings in the region of 80%*. Of course, in the real world, customers are unlikely to pay full published prices, but the saving potential does exist and must be considered.
- Complexity reduction: Complexity is the enemy of security. The more products an organization tries to bring together, the more complex it becomes to secure, the higher the operational overhead, and the more likely there will be security gaps. Microsoft is extremely strong here, if not perfect. Their solutions are managed from its single M365 platform but not necessarily in a single console. It provides consistency of security policy and procedure across the platform. And, of course, the breadth of the platform ensures detailed insights and analytics from across an organization are made available to help with threat investigation and hunting. This is also augmented by both automated incident response and, more recently, the additions of managed response via Microsoft Security Experts. This is not impossible to achieve with third-party vendors, especially the ones we looked at here, who share a range of tight product integrations that share intelligence to provide broad security insights, but it does take additional work.
- Improved Security: This one is less clear. There is no doubt that the breadth of coverage and capabilities Microsoft provides can certainly help improve security posture, especially for those using E5 to fill existing gaps. The E5 license offers a strong solution, especially for those deeply invested in Microsoft’s cloud platforms. However, it is less clear whether those already invested in other tools would see the same improvements. While in some cases, Microsoft will deliver parity or even feature improvement, there will be many cases where best-of-breed competitors do things Microsoft doesn’t. Security must be the main criterion in those cases, regardless of potential cost savings.
In answer to the question we posed in this post, the answer is yes, Microsoft could be a single security provider for an organization. However, not for all. While it provides solid security capabilities at a very attractive price, there are gaps. In reality, Microsoft’s approach is only going to be effective for those with a strong investment and strategic commitment to Microsoft Azure and M365 already.
There, of course, will be the comparison of capabilities. Specialist vendors are, at the very least, perceived to provide “better” security capabilities than Microsoft’s native tools and, in many cases, provide things Microsoft don’t. The idea that Microsoft provides “good enough” security is true, but it should not have negative connotations. Good enough security is exactly that, good enough to meet needs. However, organizations must thoroughly evaluate whether any potential solutions meet their needs.
Increasingly organizations also need services to augment their internal resources. Vendors like Crowdstrike offer comprehensive professional services with threat and incident response teams. Microsoft does offer this, but the full direction of its Security Experts service and how that will compare is unclear. This will be a crucial consideration.
This research showed us that a single vendor, specifically Microsoft, can make a strong case in terms of capability, efficacy and cost. They could either become a single vendor filling security portfolio gaps, or even replace other vendors in some instances.
However, we also noted that best-of-breed market-leading solutions are perceived as that for a reason, and that cost alone must not be the only criterion for replacing them.
What was certainly true for those who take the time to thoroughly evaluate Microsoft’s capabilities, as our CTO Howard Holton pointed out, it should at least make Microsoft part of the discussion.
*Our price comparisons were based on a 5000-user enterprise, 10,000 devices comparing M365 E3 plus E5 security versus Crowdstrike, Okta and Proofpoint as part of Crowdstrike’s Spectra Alliance providing the same security coverage. Based on published list price comparisons, research showed a 77% saving using Microsoft’s tools compared to an integrated approach using the three leading vendors showed.
This did not include any reduction in operational cost, as this was outside of the scope of this research. However, it should be noted that in previous research, looking at the impact of security tool consolidation, we have seen reductions in operational costs of 3-7 times.