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Time to throw all your security in one box?

A survey shows more IT shops are considering multi-purpose security appliances. But it still may not be wise to stuff all your vendors in one box.

Matocha Associates' IT shop found it's easier to manage two multi-purpose security appliances when you're only dealing with one vendor per box. Its firewall, VPN, intrusion detection and gateway antivirus tools sit in one appliance from SonicWALL. The Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.-based company uses another from Trend Micro for Web, e-mail and spam filtering, plus additional antivirus protection.

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Keeping it to two large vendors means the company doesn't have to scramble to figure out what technology needs upgrading and which vendor needs to take care of it, IT director Jeffrey Jarzabek said. It's also more cost-efficient to keep the vendor count low.

Would Jarzabek ever consider cramming devices from several different vendors into one appliance? Not anytime soon.

"This would be like having a BMW with a Mercedes interior and Audi exterior," Jarzabek, whose firm specializes in architecture, engineering, general contracting and construction management, said in an e-mail interview. "It isn't going to happen because it's not cost effective and it isn't reliable. This is the solution: one appliance, one vendor; another appliance, another vendor."

If a new survey from New York-based research firm TheInfoPro Inc. is any indication, Jarzabek's skepticism is not universal. A majority of IT professionals the firm interviewed in March and April said they would like to have one appliance that incorporates the functions of multiple vendors. Regardless of how many vendors are in one box, the survey makes this much clear: More enterprise IT departments are thinking about using multi-faceted appliances than they were a year ago.

"Appliances are maturing and are getting easier to use," said Myron Kerstetter, senior vice president of TheInfoPro Inc. "The message of the survey is that because of this maturity, more people are considering acquiring an appliance than in the past."

TheInfoPro (TIP) interviewed 102 enterprise IT professionals across a variety of industries on behalf of San Jose, Calif.-based Secure Computing. The firm used enterprises that belong to its TIPNetwork as a primary source of contacts. Respondents were not told that Secure Computing was involved in the study. In many cases, Kerstetter said he spoke with people who don't have an appliance right now. But among them, he said, "There seems to be a strong interest."

Among the findings:

  • Almost 50% of respondents indicated "more" or "much more" interest in multi-function security appliances compared to a year ago.
  • A majority of respondents -- 55% -- said they'd prefer that functions on a single security appliance be from more than one vendor. Another 31% prefer that all functions come from one vendor while another 14% were neutral.
  • More than 60% voiced some or serious consideration about using a security appliance for multiple security functions; another 10% already do or plan to.
  • More than 70% rated a single management interface, integrated reports and lower costs as somewhat or very important factors in a security appliance.
  • Most were not concerned about using fewer security vendors. Just over a third said it is somewhat or very important to use fewer.
  • A "very large majority" of enterprises use more than a single vendor of information security products. Forty-two percent use six to 10 vendors; 40% use five vendors or less.
  • Less than 20% had definite plans to decrease the number of security vendors they use; another 15% said they might decrease their number.

    Noting that 42% of respondents said they use six or more vendors and that 66% said they won't reduce the number of vendors they how have, Jarzabek said, "Having that many vendors is not beneficial to the bottom line… How is the management of them going? Not good? I didn't think so!"

    Skeptics of all-in-one appliances have argued the machines aren't as simple as they appear on the outside. What's an IT practitioner to do when a glitch crops up in such an all-encompassing machine? Critics say it's much more difficult to address the problem when the affected software is buried in the belly of a big appliance.

    But Kerstetter said that concern appears to be easing. One analogy is that in the old days, an IT administrator would need a hard hat and screwdriver to fix something run amuck within an appliance. Now, Kerstetter said, "Technology has matured and fixing a problem is as easy as pressing a button and rebooting."

    Paul DeBernarbi, director of product marketing for Secure Computing, agreed. "The technology has caught up with demand," he said. "Today's hardware and software is such that you can have one platform that can deliver on multiple needs."

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