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Winners and Losers at RSA’s Cyber-Security Extravaganza


A version of this post originally appeared in the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter.

What a week. Five go-go days and nights at the RSA conference in San Francisco showed why cyber-security is the biggest story in tech right now as businesses scramble to secure a leaky, hack-riddled Internet—and cyber firms jockey to sign them up for fat contracts.

The week had hoopla aplenty, including a performance by rapper Snoop Dogg that crowned network security firm ForeScout as the winner of RSA’s best party. Meanwhile, a sales guy read my “Fortune” badge as “FortLine,” prompting my colleague Robert Hackett to suggest we launch a cyber startup of that name (“FortLine: perimeter defense in the cloud!”). I’m sure someone would fund it.

But beneath the fun lurked the question of when this money merry-go-round will stop, and which cyber winners and losers will emerge. Bill Phelps, an EVP at Booz Allen Hamilton, believes there are too many companies doing the same thing, and many just aren’t pulling in revenue to justify their valuations. If he’s right, a winnowing is on the way.

Phelps also identified what he calls “security supermarkets” as likely losers in the cyber market. These are big companies like or HP or Intel or FireEye, which acquire a mish-mash of smaller security firms, but fail to integrate them into a single platform. The result is a big bucket of products that don’t play well together—and annoy their customers. Meanwhile, Phelps sees newer names like end-point provider Tanium, which are building platforms around their core key product, as better poised to win.

But if there was a single winner this week, it was RSA itself and its owner EMC. Long-time attendees said they are agog at what has become of the conference, which began as a small confab of cryptographers, and then shuffled along for years in modest settings in San Jose. Today, booths at RSA can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the overall extravaganza swallows up a large part of San Francisco. If this isn’t peak-cyber, I don’t know what is.