Microsoft added remote-access VPN technology to its growing array of security properties on May 18, snapping up privately held Whale Communications for an undisclosed price.
Company officials described the acquisition as a move to round out Microsofts ability to provide support for secure access to corporate networks in its ISA (Internet Security and Acceleration) Server products.
Whale, based in Rosh Haayin, Israel, specializes in SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) VPN technology, which is used to allow remote access to e-mail, business applications and other databases from a wide variety of devices.
Microsoft said Whales SSL VPN and Web-application firewalls will complement its existing capabilities for providing systems security and access in Windows Server and ISA Server.
“Customers are looking to increase their mobility, to have more ability to access the internal network from the external environment, and connect with partners while protecting data and network infrastructure,” said Ted Kummert, corporate vice president of Security, Access and Solutions at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash. “Whales technology in applications-access protection gives users the ability to provide access to anyone, from any machine, while administering their own security policies.”
Kummert said Whales Intelligent Application Gateway and Application Optimizers add a new element of application-layer filtering capabilities to the technologies available in ISA Server.
Used in collaboration with Microsoft Active Directory, he said, the technology should allow customers to offer more widespread connectivity to networks, regardless of location or device, along with greater ability to directly enforce corporate security policies.
Microsoft enters the market for SSL VPN technology at a time when demand for the software and related security appliances made by companies such as Whale appears to be growing. The two companies had already established a partnership through which Whale sold a version of its Intelligent Application Gateway appliance pre-loaded with ISA Server.
Microsoft said bringing SSL VPN in-house is a natural evolution.
“For us, Job One is about customers securing their environments and controlling access; thats something that we already do, and this gives us a more comprehensive platform that offers more choice in how customers want to do that,” Kummert said.
If the deal gains final approval, Microsoft faces no shortage of rivals in the SSL VPN space, with vendors ranging from security applications market leader Symantec to networking experts such as Cisco Systems and F5 Networks.
Analysts said the deal for Whale makes sense given the familiarity between the partners and rising demand for SSL VPN technologies. Microsofts bid to build security into the fabric of its infrastructure software and then supplement those systems with the external security technologies it is building into its next-generation Windows Vista operating system should resonate with some customers, said Rob Whiteley, an analyst with Forrester Research, based in Cambridge, Mass.
In addition to locking down PC-based access to enterprise systems, Whiteley said, Microsoft wants to offer expanded security capabilities that will eventually integrate with its Windows Mobile operating system for smart phones and other wireless devices.
“SSL is all about providing that pre-admission check before granting access to resources, under compliance policies, which makes a lot of sense for remote employees,” Whiteley said. “With the growth of Windows Mobile it will be even more important for Microsoft to have this technology.”
Whiteley said that while Microsoft is entering the market for SSL VPNs on the heels of many other vendors, the software maker should be able to push Whales technology through its channel and grab a respectable share of the sector. Companies that have not previously invested in advanced VPN software will likely represent the firms largest audience, he said.
“Its a crowded market and theyre behind some other companies, but Microsoft has the ability to drive volume even if its product doesnt have all the latest bells and whistles,” Whiteley said. “Within large enterprises, companies are looking for greater simplicity, even though best of breed has been the norm for these types of technologies; with smaller customers they could do very well.”