When it comes to picking a single strategic security vendor, IT executives are decidedly at odds. Questioned whether they had such a vendor, 50 executives rendered a split decision, with 42.6 per cent indicating they do and 57.4 per cent saying they don't, according to a report from Nemertes Research.

A ‘strategic security vendor’ is defined as the one an IT executive would turn to first as a preferred security partner. The in-depth interviews conducted by Nemertes Research for its report, ‘Security and Information Protection: Technology Trends and Vendor Ratings,’ found Cisco, Microsoft and Juniper Networks fared the best.

Among the respondents who said they did have a strategic security vendor, Cisco was cited most frequently.

“Cisco was mentioned about 20 per cent of the time and Microsoft about 10 per cent,” says Nemertes president Johna Till Johnson. “IBM and Symantec weren't even mentioned.”

The results are a remarkable turnaround for Cisco and Microsoft compared to the responses from 2005, when IT executives were asked the same question.

At that time, there was little indication anyone had a strategic security vendor – but the question often incited grumbling and disparaging comments about Microsoft and Cisco, Johnson says. “It’s a 180-degree turnaround for them in perception.”

It appears that the reason Cisco is viewed as a strategic security vendor isn’t that IT execs buy Cisco gear for its security features, but that the presence of Cisco gear and the importance of security underscore Cisco's importance.

However, when it came to rating security vendors in customer service and support, and strength of technology and value, the top vendor was Juniper – easily. Johnson said Juniper’s ratings were significantly higher than anyone else’s.

The in-depth interviews conducted by Nemertes found that, among IT execs who didn’t have a strategic security vendor, about a quarter preferred a best-of-breed approach in selecting security products, and the rest responded that either they didn’t need one, or they couldn't have one because of outsourcing or procurement restrictions.