Better connections promised in next Forefront beta

With the upcoming beta of Microsoft's Forefront, code-named Stirling, IT managers can look forward to managing security threats to the client and server from a single console.

With the latest version of its anti-malware software barely out of the door, Microsoft has already made known this week its plans for the next version of its Forefront client and server security software.

Microsoft said it plans to release by late 2007 a beta, code-named Stirling, which is the next installment in the Forefront line of enterprise security products. Stirling promises to give IT managers the ability to manage security threats to the client and server and at the network level from a single console, whether those threats are viruses, spamware or malware.

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The beta will reportedly have deeper integration with Network Access Protection, Active Directory, Microsoft Updates and with Microsoft System Center management products. In addition, Stirling is said to work with other security products from vendors such as Symantec Corp. and McAfee Inc.

But Stirling's main goal is to offer Windows shops an all-in-one option for protection across the enterprise, said Steve Brown, director of product management, security and access division at Microsoft.

Brown said IT shops spend a lot of time cobbling together different types of security software packages. The results of those efforts can be risky.

Research by the FBI and Gartner Inc., the Stamford, Conn.-based consulting firm, found that most companies are vulnerable to threats not because they don't have anti-malware software in place but because what they do have in place is configured incorrectly, Brown said. "With Stirling, IT professionals will get a single console to centrally manage threats and vulnerabilities and set up policies to dynamically respond to threats."

Some IT managers remain cautious about the potential that an all-in-one offering like Stirling has to restrict IT shops flexibility. "Being able to use one product would be a good thing because a big problem we have [with security] is that we have too many places to look for relevant information," said Peter Gluck, technology director with advertising agency Cline Davis and Mann Inc. in New York. "In general, consolidation across products is good as long as it remains flexible. All-in-one frameworks tend to get rigid," he said.

Others said they are hopeful about the connectivity promised in Forefront because many security products available today just don't operate well together.

"We looked at Microsoft before when they got into antivirus, but then they backed off of that," said Rick Logsdon, IT director of Polk Community College in Winter Haven, Fla. "It looks like they might be ready now, so we're looking at moving to Forefront to cut down on the complexity of so many different products for antivirus and spyware."

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