Microsoft Moves to the Forefront of Security

Microsoft has been gobbling up security companies the way people gobble up popcorn at the movies, and the result of those acquisitions was unveiled today, when the company formally announced the availability of Microsoft Forefront Client Security.

Forefront is an all-in-one security application for desktops, servers and laptops that combines a number of security technologies under one umbrella:

  • Anti-Virus
  • Anti-Spyware
  • Malware Removal
  • A Rootkit Sniffer
  • Centralized Management

Forefront is the culmination of Microsoft's purchases of a handful of security companies, including anti spyware maker Giant Software, anti virus specialists GeCad, Sybari and its Antigen products for eliminating spam and viruses in e-mail, and hosted e-mail security through FrontBridge Technologies.

Aimed strictly at businesses, Forefront Client is part of a suite of products branded under the Forefront moniker. Other products include Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2006, Intelligent Application Gateway 2007, Forefront Security for Exchange Server and Forefront Security for Sharepoint.

The release of Forefront was accompanied by another product launch: Microsoft System Center Essentials 2007. System Center Essentials allows management of all IT assets -- servers, clients, hardware and IT services -- from a single console.

Microsoft is aiming Systems Center Essentials -- a scaled-down version of System Center Operations Manager -- at midsize companies with up to 500 desktops or 30 servers. Redmond is approaching that market by touting integration between Forefront Client and Systems Center Essentials.

"Now, with Essentials plus Forefront, you can manage systems management and security in the same environment," said Bill Corrigan, director of product management for the Systems Center Team at Microsoft.

Corrigan also said that Microsoft built System Center Essentials with partners in mind. Partners can easily customize the application by using the PowerShell scripting language, on which Essentials is based, he said, and Microsoft has made APIs more readily available with System Center Essentials than with prior management releases. Moreover, the relative lack of complexity in Essentials makes it approachable for further development by a wide range of partners.

"It's not the end-to-end enterprise sale that we've done in the past," Corrigan said of System Center Essentials. "It will need a lot of partners to help customers get up and running, but it doesn't require the type of Microsoft Consulting intervention you see with other products. That was a design goal of [System Center Essentials], to make this a generalist-friendly product."

Microsoft's Forefront Client announcement will no doubt cause unease or worse for all the third-party vendors of products that helped mitigate Microsoft security concerns over the years, companies like Symantec and McAfee. That doesn't mean, however, that they are automatically going to suffer bottom-line woes. Microsoft has struggled for a long time to shed its reputation for producing insecure products. Efforts like the Trustworthy Computing Initiative helped in that regard, but big security holes continue to be discovered with regularity in many Microsoft products, and "Patch Tuesday," when the company releases security updates to fix vulnerabilities, still causes much anxiety among IT pros.

In an e-mail, Symantec officials today responded to the release of Forefront Client and questioned Microsoft's security acumen by attacking the short track record of Redmond's antivirus application, Windows Live OneCare.

"OneCare has failed multiple third-party antivirus tests, including the latest Virus Bulletin, which is widely considered the benchmark test for AV engines," the statement said. "As threats to today's environment continue to evolve in complexity and frequency, more advanced and integrated protection will be required. This is a core area of focus for our upcoming Hamlet product, which combines signature-based protection and proactive protection from zero-day threats in a single endpoint agent, managed from a single console.

Forefront Client Security is currently only available through a volume licensing agreement; stand-alone product availability is coming in July, according to Microsoft. It's interesting to note that Forefront is priced separately from the management console. Forefront starts at $12.72 per user or device, per year, and the console has a per-year price of $2,468. System Center Essentials will be available in July as well, with the ability to support up to 50 clients and 10 servers for $2,000.

About the Authors

Keith Ward is editor of Virtualization Review magazine. You can contact Keith at [email protected].

Lee Pender is senior editor of Redmond Channel Partner and editor of its e-newsletter, RCP Update.