Microsofts impending move into the business PC security market is accelerating the development and adoption of so-called single agent desktop defense applications, according to many industry watchers.
While the launch of the software giants OneCare PC management service during the last week in May 2006 has already pushed rival security software makers to create their own bundled offerings for the home market, experts say that Microsofts move into the enterprise security sector is similarly accelerating the development of centralized enterprise PC defense applications.
The Redmond, Wash.-based company has already distributed a beta version of Microsoft Client Protection, a new security product that aims to help protect business desktops, laptops and file servers from a range of threats including viruses, spyware and rootkits, among other things.
While single agent desktop security products–those that use a centralized software architecture to fight many IT threats–are nothing new, the impending emergence of Microsoft Client Protection and demands from customers for integrated, easier-to-manage PC applications is driving traditional security software vendors to promote the tools more aggressively.
Most vendors are already touting integrated security packages that pull together their stand-alone applications that fight viruses or monitor for network intrusions, said Brian Foster, senior director of product management at market leader Symantec.
Taking the process to the next level and pushing customers to buy applications that fight the same types of problems using more centralized software architecture is a natural progression, he said.
For its part, Symantec, based in Cupertino, Calif., started down the path to single agent products in 2002 with the introduction of its Symantec Client Security package, which was followed closely by rival McAfees Active Client Security offering.
Enterprise customer buying patterns, along with the demand for integrated security applications, are finally driving adoption of the technology.
“Enterprises have long had multiple people buying security products for various reasons, for anti-virus, firewall or mobile computing, and its taken time for companies to converge around endpoint security on the PC,” said Foster.
“Selling an integrated solution across different buyers hasnt proven simple or easy,” he added.
“While security budgets arent growing anymore and companies want fewer vendors and clients on their endpoints, the best-of-breed security mentality is still entrenched in a lot of organizations, thats why this transition is only happening now.”
Foster pointed out that like any technological advancement, single agent security applications have needed time to prove themselves to customers, and for companies to begin considering the tools as their existing multiyear software licenses expire.
As those forces lead more firms to consider single agent tools, Foster said, more companies have begun buying in.
One company stumping hard for the adoption of single agent desktop security is Panda Software, Glendale, Calif.
In mid-May, the software maker introduced the latest version of its Panda EnterpriSecure single agent product line. The company hopes it will drive the same sort of investment among larger firms around single agent PC defense tools that it has generated in the SMB (small and midsize business) space with its so-called UTM (unified threat management) network security software.
More Vendors Come to
“The single agent concept is ultimately the only way to go, as companies need something that expands their traditional anti-virus or anti-spyware investments into true host intrusion protection,” said Patrick Hinojosa, chief technology officer at Panda.
“From an administrative standpoint, this addresses the complexity of pulling together disparate security technologies, and it provides the combination of behavioral analysis and advanced heuristics that can only take place in the desktop environment.”
Hinojosa pointed out that other vendors are also starting to adopt the single agent model as a result of customers growing affinity for the product design, including its traditional rivals and newer security players such as networking giant Cisco Systems, which markets its own Security Agent package.
Other companies paid to help enterprises select among the many technology approaches on the security landscape are also coming around to single agent. Darwin Herdman, senior vice president of managed services at consultant company Getronics, which has its headquarters in Amsterdam, said his firm would be encouraged to see more customers and vendors buying into the single agent approach.
“The desktop needs to be better protected than it is today and customers do not want to run five or six different agents that sap performance and cause management headaches,” said Herdman.
Herdman added that its still a big challenge for vendors to convince customers to invest in something new like this.
“From a business standpoint the security vendors are looking at Microsoft Client Protection and they see the writing on the wall to a certain extent. This is something they have to do now to compete tomorrow,” he said.
The push for more single agent tools may also spur increased industry consolidation as larger security applications companies look to add new ideas from smaller startups and other companies working on the technology, according to industry analysts.
Another trend that could benefit from the emergence of the single agent products is the movement by security companies to introduce managed services that promise to defend the many threats aimed at desktops, such as Microsofts consumer-oriented OneCare.
“Were seeing a lot of experimentation among the incumbent vendors and surely some of smaller vendors will move into single agent anti-malware technologies, so theres little doubt that this is the next big thing,” said Andy Jaquith, analyst with Boston-based Yankee Group.
“Theres also a natural affinity between managed services and these sorts of consolidated products that will result from all this; single agent technologies could push more customers to say why not when it comes to security services.”