This article introduces the new product category, Integrated Threat Management. It is making life simpler for small and medium-sized businesses ï¿½ and more lucrative for the VARs that serve them.
Before voice services became ï¿½justï¿½ another data packet on the network, companies managed voice and data traffic separately. Enterprises had separate voice and data computing/networking worlds with staffs to keep both universes humming and only occasional territory battles.
Today, although much voice traffic has become IP-based, enterprises still value their voice services enough to put in place dedicated network connections that serve sensitive voice and video applications only. These voice/video-centric communications environments deal with ï¿½qualityï¿½ of services ï¿½ such as having calls go through quickly and video so fast there is no jitter or static. Other traditional data traffic, such as that associated with e-mail, file transfers, computing, and such, is managed with different expectations and different tools. For instance, a short hiccup in a conversation becomes distracting if it happens very much, while most users tend to accept and expect regular interruptions to data transmissions.
Network applications for voice/video and for simpler non-voice data face similar problems, such as security, virus attacks, bandwidth and performance management, privacy, and so forth. However, because of the different expectations for the two types of applications, the solutions to such problems are usually very different in their execution. For either type problem, the enterprise typically has network protection infrastructure and staff to ensure the successful transmission of all traffic types and the budget to support these investments.
Until now, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have been at a distinct disadvantage behind large enterprises in regard to network management. Their VoIP services are probably delivered by a specialist service provider who manages the voice network quality and security issues and simply delivers each call to its SMB destination over a dedicated high-speed data connection. But all other network issues, such as protection of data against viruses, violations to firewalls, management of spam, and the set-up and management of virtual private networks (VPNs), are the responsibility of the small-business owner.
Thanks to ï¿½Integrated Threat Managementï¿½ (ITM) offerings, management of network performance and use problems has gotten much easier. ITMs help small businesses protect all the data traffic on their network, just like the big guys do.
By definition, ITM packages combine two or more functions relating to monitoring, management, and correction of network security issues, such as viruses, privacy, performance, and even spam. But not all ITM solutions are the same.
Sometimes an ITM offer is created by adding on new capabilities to a productï¿½s primary function. While the base element may be best-of-breed, the ï¿½added onï¿½ elements do not measure up in quality. For instance, an anti-virus ï¿½add-onï¿½ to a firewall product may screen only 2,000+ threats, while, in reality, over 50,000 known virus types are potentially dangerous.
Another approach is to bundle several functions together, creating each element from scratch with a fresh look at todayï¿½s business threats. This is the challenge my company has taken on. It can be great if each category element is equal in quality to the single-function competitors and 100 percent reliable. But many ï¿½start-upï¿½ bundled products have compromised each individual function, resulting in an overall mediocre solution.
Microsoft (News - Alert) suggests that ITM will be included in its next operating system, not a stand-alone product at all, but a service within the machine itself. But that is not here today.
Why should a VAR consider carrying ITM products?
ï¿½ ITM gives VARs reasons to talk with the customer about multiple problems and long-term solutions, extending the VARsï¿½ value beyond a simple voice or data responsibility.
ï¿½ ITM products that are truly channel-friendly do not require in-depth data network knowledge and can open up network solutions as a new business category.
ï¿½ ITM packages are typically profitable, especially those with remote monitoring and management capabilities. The after-sale technical support issues are, in some cases, addressed within the product itself, reducing the VARsï¿½ long-term support exposure.
What should an SMB consider when reviewing an ITM package?
ï¿½ Match the solution power and scale to the needs of the company ï¿½ either SMB or enterprise. Donï¿½t over-buy or under-buy, but make sure what you do purchase can be easily scaled up in the future.
ï¿½ Expect compatibility and flexibility. Donï¿½t throw out a good and working application you trust. Your ITM choice should supplement, not replace, your existing investments.
ï¿½ E-mail is a critical consideration. If you use both POP3 and SMTP services, be sure your ITM product supports these equally well.
ï¿½ Expect 100 percent accuracy and performance as promised. Look for certifications, lab test results, vendor-neutral recommendations. IT
Thomas Schram is the President and CEO of Wiresoft.Net, Inc., a member of the Enterprise Communications Association. For more information, please visit the company online at www.wiresoft.net.
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