SMB - Unified threat management rebounds

Company officials admit that they are seeing a better response in selling the multi-purpose security gateways

The concept of UTM (unified threat management) and the devices that fit into the product segment are at long last finding a home in some enterprise IT environments.

Roughly five years after analysts first coined the UTM moniker to help define an emerging class of network appliances that offered integrated security applications on the same box, the technology and the market finally appear to have evolved to a point where large businesses are ready to buy, proponents of the tools maintain.

Ill-performing products, bad timing, and customer preferences for standalone, best-of-breed technologies traditionally prevented UTMs from winning over many large customers, but some experts say that the tide has turned and adoption of the devices is happening now.

And UTMs -- which typically include a firewall, anti-virus tools, e-mail and Web filters, and an intrusion detection system -- aren't just catching on inside the branch office environments of widely-distributed companies, experts maintain, but also in central corporate operations.

"When UTMs first came around, one of the biggest problems was the added overhead that it put on the connection. You put the device in line, and things would noticeably slow down," said Ray Turilli, network services manager for ASA Tires Systems, which makes software tools used by tire distributors and automotive e-commerce companies. "But now that you have devices with multi-core processors, they can do their job without causing connection speed problems," he said. "I think it's definitely worse now to try to deal with all the individual applications on their own, so you have the combination of more powerful technology and ease of use as drivers for taking another look."

In addition to building applications for use by its customers, ASA also hosts the software programs for some of its clients, including e-mail and electronic point-of-sale systems. As part of that business, the company has also found itself recommending UTMs to some of companies seeking to alleviate performance problems brought on by the security technologies they've been using, Turilli said.

"Even our larger customers are getting the message, and we're noticing more and more customers in general coming to us and asking about the best way to handle these [security performance] issues," he said. "They may not even know what a UTM is coming in, but when they see what it can do, they're interested because the last thing these companies want is to be bogged down by security."

ASA is using UTM technology supplied by SonicWall, which has been marketing the appliances to SMBs for a number of years but has retooled its product lineup in recent months to focus more of its efforts on the enterprise.

In late February, the company, which helped establish the firewall market, launched its new E-class of UTM devices aimed specifically at larger enterprises.

"The whole UTM concept was probably guilty of being over-hyped several years ago, especially in the sense of moving into larger environments, but even those customers are moving away from older standalone firewall technologies to devices that offer deep packet inspection and other functions," said John Cuhn, director of marketing for SonicWall. "A lot of this shift is about the available technology today, now that there are vendors like us balancing the features across multiple processing cores instead of a single processor or an ASIC the traffic moving through the device can be handled a lot better," he said. "Now that [UTM] can offer the ability to do full inspection across all the security functions without hitting traffic, I think we'll see UTM being pulled into a lot of different devices and into more enterprises."

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