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All-in-one security devices carry their weight

All-in-one security devices are making it easier to keep distributed networks safe, and it's no wonder competition in the space is heating up. Despite earlier misgivings, one international firm explains how it's using a product from ServGate to deploy security updates quickly and efficiently.

As network security becomes more complex, more vendors are beginning to offer products that combine multiple functions into a single device. One vendor, ServGate Technologies Inc., has combined this multi-function approach with a more flexible and scalable product for fast-growing businesses.

The EdgeForce security platform from the Milpitas, Calif.-based security company combines a firewall and VPN with modules that scan for viruses and filter out spam e-mail messages. The company has partnered with Network Associates Inc. to use its well-known McAfee antivirus product.

Optional content filtering and intrusion detection modules are available as well, and customers can pick and choose which functions to enable, said Atchison Frazer, vice president of marketing for ServGate.

The vendor is also able to scale its product significantly to fit the needs of rapidly growing businesses, Frazer said.

The ability to scale -- as well as ServGate's modular approach and partnerships -- help differentiate it from others in the market, including rival Fortinet Inc., said Eric Hemmendinger, research director with the Boston-based research firm Aberdeen Group. Fortinet's product offers high throughput, but it is not as scalable. The company offers 10 versions of its all-in-one devices for organizations, ranging in size from a home office to a large enterprise.

Also, Fortinet has developed most of its own technology, including its spam- and virus-filtering features, rather than partner with other vendors. However, its virus-filtering module has been verified by ICSA Labs, the Mechanicsburg, Pa. security certification organization.

Hemmendinger said that ServGate appeals to a company that only needs a few of ServGate's modules today but may need more functionality as the organization grows. Fortinet, on the other hand, is more likely to appeal to companies that need many functions right away.

Market evolution

While the market for single-function security devices is not going to disappear, there are many companies that will find the approach of the multi-function vendors to be more appealing, said Hemmendinger.

In the past, many of these multi-function devices were nothing more than several point solutions bundled together. Device management was not simplified, and the products were not necessarily cheaper, Hemmendinger said.

That has changed over time. Many of these appliances are well integrated, management is simpler and costs have come down. Companies only have to work with one vendor rather than five, Hemmendinger said, and they get multiple solutions for a significant discount. "Tell me why an organization wouldn't do that?" he asked.

As a result of this growing interest, many other vendors have begun churning out multi-function security products, said Brian Burke, an analyst with Framingham, Mass.-based research firm International Data Corp.

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For instance, Nokia Corp. has a firewall that provides content filtering. Cisco Systems Inc., Netscreen Technologies Inc. and Symantec Corp. are also beginning to take this approach, and many smaller firms -- like ServGate and Fortinet -- are also putting multi-function devices on the market.

Benefits of combination

One of the businesses that experimented with the multi-function approach is SINA Corp. When the Shanghai, China-based Web portal firm began searching for a new security product, it hoped to find something with centralized management. The company has 1,000 employees in eight offices in the U.S. and China.

With varying levels of expertise at each of its offices, Jack Hong, co-founder and vice president of SINA, said that it had been difficult to implement a consistent level of security at all of its locations. It was also a challenge to deploy security updates quickly and efficiently.

The organization chose ServGate's platform and is deploying a firewall and VPN, as well as virus and spam filtering. With the centralized management features, Hong said it is easier to ensure that all virus updates have been completed.

Initially Hong was concerned about using a multi-function device because he believed that individual products would offer more quality than an all-in-one offering. But, he said ServGate's partnership with McAfee helped quell his fears, and today he is confident that product can keep pace with his fast-growing organization.

During the recent Mydoom virus attack, Hong said his offices were able to use ServGate's product to update virus-blocking software quickly and effectively.

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