Microsoft launches client-based anti-malware

It’s neither better nor worse than others, but Microsoft Corp.’s security offerings under its Forefront Security brand is worth taking a good look at, according to one Canadian IT security analyst.

Putting ‘Microsoft’ and ‘security’ together in the same context may sound “a bit oxymoronic”, noted James Quin, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research in London, Ont., but he said the software giant’s active push into the enterprise IT security space does deserve some attention from businesses. “[Microsoft] has taken the opportunity to sit back, evaluate the market, understand what the needs of the marketplace are, and is now supplying solutions that deliver that.”

Microsoft last week launched Forefront Client Security, its latest security offering under the Forefront banner. Forefront Client Security, an anti-malware and antivirus tool for desktops and servers, has joined the growing line up of Forefront Security products, including Forefront Security for Exchange, Forefront Security for Sharepoint and Live Communication Server, Internet Security and Acceleration Server and Intelligent Application Gateway.

Forefront Client Security offers businesses a centralized tool for managing security across desktops and servers, explained Derick Wong, senior product manager, security and management at Microsoft Canada.

“In the past, the problem with security tools is they were all point product tools, and point product tools were never meant to work together,” said Wong.

If Microsoft’s push into the browser space several years ago is any indication, the industry can expect nothing from the Redmond firm other than an aggressive play for the security market, Quin noted. “When Microsoft decides to get into a market it does what it takes to get into that market.”

It also doesn’t hurt that Microsoft has a huge installed base for its Windows platform, giving Forefront Security the advantage of better integration with other Microsoft products, and third-party security vendors some serious competition.

“There’s nothing in Forefront that really makes it notably better or worse than any other solutions already in the marketplace,” said Quin. “However, the Microsoft name may be sufficient for it to steal market share, and a better integration with other Microsoft solutions…is likely to be a bit of a differentiator.”

Faced with increasing competition from Microsoft, Symantec Corp. questioned Microsoft’s ability to effectively protect enterprise customers.

“It’s really important to look at the track record and see whether or not [Microsoft’s] technology is effective in stopping some of the most prevalent viruses in the world,” said Kevin Murray, senior director for product marketing at Symantec Corp. in Cupertino, Calif.

Symantec plans to step up customer education on the importance of “additional security technologies to truly protect them,” said Murray.

Asked whether Microsoft would eventually offer Forefront Client Security pre-loaded onto its upcoming Longhorn server, Wong indicated the “roadmap for Forefront is to remain a separate product.”

Quin likewise doubts Microsoft would be willing to risk opening itself up to more antitrust complaints. “When they did force everyone to take on Internet Explorer they got a pretty significant slap on the wrist for it. I’m not sure they’re willing to take that risk again,” he said.

Along with Forefront Client Security, Microsoft also launched System Center Essentials 2007, a unified management tool combining Microsoft’s systems and network management, as well as patch management and image-management capabilities into a single platform, said Microsoft’s Wong.

System Center Essentials, a tool specifically designed for midsized organizations, provides IT managers a single platform for managing systems across the network including servers, clients, hardware, software and IT services.

Oakville, Ont.-based IT solutions provider and Microsoft partner UNIS LUMIN started using the beta version of System Center Essentials over a month ago.

“As an active development organization we have a reasonable amount of internal servers, both virtual and real, and at a moment’s notice often we have to reconstruct (system) environments…to be able to reassemble it in the configuration that’s operating at the client’s environment,” explained David Donnelly, director of application development services at UNIS LUMIN.

This kind of development environment was a big challenge for the system administrator trying to keep track of the changes occurring on each system, he added.

System Center Essentials provided Donnelly’s team an accurate inventory of what condition each machine is in, considering that machine configurations can change quickly at a moment’s notice. “It’s being able to have one view. The whole idea of consolidated interface is to be able to manage so many different functions without having to go through so many different tools,” Donnelly said.

Licensing for Forefront Security starts at US$12.75 per user or device, per year for the security agent and US$2,468 per year for the management console. System Center Essentials is offered as a management server with built-in support to manage 50 clients and 10 servers starting at US$2,000.

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