IBM and Cisco have joined forces to deal with network security threats such as hackers, worms and viruses.

Under a new agreement announced today, the two tech giants are integrating a number of products, so IBM products will communicate directly with Cisco's network security technology.

The two companies also announced a number of initiatives, including plans for a piece of software to connect Cisco's Secure Access Control Server (ACS) with IBM's Tivoli Identity Manager software, so companies only need one identity and control system to cover everything from software applications to network resources.

Using existing technology, ThinkPads and ThinkCenters with the ThinkVantage embedded security chip will be able to connect seamlessly with Cisco VPN products, providing enhanced security with hardware and software-based encryption, the companies said.

Customers who purchase the IBM eServer xSeries products and ThinkPads can now download a version of the Cisco Security Agent for those machines which includes firewall and intrusion prevention features and provides "day zero" protection by identifying and blocking malicious behavior on computers.

Finally, IBM said it is joining the Cisco Network Admission Control (NAC) program. Unveiled in November, the NAC program pairs Cisco with security companies, enabling Cisco routers to evaluate information, such as whether a particular computer's anti-virus definitions are up to date and its operating system is adequately patched, before allowing it to connect to a network.

IBM will integrate the Tivoli security management software with Cisco products involved in the NAC program. For example, companies using both Cisco NAC products and Tivoli will be able to take information about a computer's software configuration and apply it to Tivoli security policies before granting admission to a network.

The partnership between Cisco and IBM is a natural step, given both companies' size and strength serving Fortune 5000 companies, said Chris O'Connor, director of corporate security strategy at IBM. The two companies have also made complementary security investments in recent years. Cisco has focused on end-point security with the Cisco Security Agent and network admission control with the NAC program, while IBM has invested in policy and user management. "This is natural marriage of complementary solutions," said Dave King, director of marketing for Cisco's VPN and Security Business Unit.

The Tivoli Identity Manager agent for Cisco Secure Access Control Server will be available in March and more announcements are planned. The two companies have a three-year road map of "incremental updates" planned, especially in the area of access control and remediation.

The ultimate goal is to make security "go away," said O'Connor. "Security should be there when you make a new business process so you don't have to think about it piece by piece." King joined in with the festivities: "We view this as a long run relationship. We don't expect this to be a one hit wonder."