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Microsoft to acquire spam fighter FrontBridge

To bolster the security of its Exchange messaging platform, Microsoft plans to buy the California provider of managed security services.

Microsoft intends to fill a gap in its messaging portfolio with the announcement Wednesday that it plans to acquire FrontBridge Technologies Inc., a provider of antivirus, antispam, disaster recovery and other security services.

FrontBridge is privately held so terms of the proposed

These are tools that customers need, but at the same time, Microsoft doesn't want to alienate their partners.

Steve Bryant, Exchange MVP

deal were not disclosed.

The service will work with any type of messaging platform. Customers have nothing to install, manage or fix, said David Cohen, vice president of business development at the Marina del Rey, Calif., company. FrontBridge cleans customers' e-mails, but the customer maintains reporting and administrative capabilities. "It's the same functionality and data access as if it were insourced," he said.

Pricing is currently based on a per-seat, per-month basis. The vendor boasts more than 3,000 customers globally, ranging in size from small to mid-tier and large enterprises.

Kim Akers, a senior director in Microsoft's Exchange Server group, said she thinks the service will benefit customers who use human resources to manage spam and to fight viruses. "This lets them free those resources to do higher-value activity," she said.

Microsoft had no additional information about how the service would be packaged and priced once it becomes part of the Exchange family of services.

What made FrontBridge attractive to Microsoft

One expert cited two motivators for this deal: Microsoft has shown increased interest in the services side of the messaging business. It acquired hosted conferencing vendor Placeware in 2003, and offers a service now called Office Live Meeting. There is also an intense need for e-mail hygiene services in the market, said Matt Cain, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in Stamford, Conn.

"This market is growing rapidly, and not just for antivirus and antispam, but also for regulatory compliance, content filtering and secure delivery," he said.

Related links

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Find more resources on Exchange security

FrontBridge is one of three big names in the hosted messaging security market, including Postini Inc. of Redwood City, Calif., and MessageLabs Ltd. of New York. Gartner estimates that FrontBridge has roughly $25 million in annual revenue and 160 employees.

Another factor in the decision to acquire FrontBridge may be rooted in the pressure Microsoft feels from some customers to make Exchange more secure and compliant with government regulations. "The partner ecosystem has not done as good a job as Microsoft believes it needs to do," said Mark Levitt, an analyst at IDC, a Framingham, Mass., market research firm. "This led Microsoft to acquire one of the handful of messaging security services solution providers that has a wide range of capabilities."

Another option for Exchange customers

At least one Microsoft partner observed that Microsoft today has no strong archiving dimension with its Exchange Server 2003 platform, though third-party tools for it are available.

In some cases, Microsoft intentionally leaves gaps in its technology to allow for other vendors to provide services and software, but there is value in providing out-of-the-box or add-on technology so customers can meet new regulations, said Steve Bryant, an Exchange MVP and consultant at ProExchange, a Fayetteville, Ga., integrator that specializes in Exchange.

Bryant would like to know more about how the technology would be packaged and sold. "Good things could come out of this," he said. "These are tools that customers need, but at the same time, Microsoft doesn't want to alienate their partners. It's a delicate balance they have to play with."

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