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Forefront 'Stirling': Microsoft Offers Its Protection

OK, confession time: Back in November of 2006, RCP the magazine brought you the story of Microsoft Forefront, Redmond's big move into the enterprise security market. As a cover piece, the "Partners in Security" story itself was fine -- maybe even interesting, if you'll allow the author to comment on his own story -- but the cover of the magazine wasn't everything that we at RCP had hoped it would be.

Well, OK, it wasn't everything that your editor hoped it would be. Instead of the rather generic "Partners in Security" with a chain and lock around the words, one bold member of the RCP staff, the one writing this newsletter, wanted to take a different tack. The idea was to have a picture of a mafioso (we were thinking of somebody like Silvio Dante from "The Sopranos") standing under the cover line, "Microsoft Offers its Protection." (You know, kind of like the guys from gangster movies who go around to businesses offering them the "opportunity" to contribute to the "neighborhood watch" get the idea.)

Well, ultimately, every member of the RCP staff except for one disliked the idea -- and they were probably right, in hindsight. It was a little -- what are the kids saying these days? -- OTT, or over the top. (Plus, HBO or whoever owns IP for "The Sopranos" would surely have sued us into submission.) The idea was, in any case, that the owner of the operating system, the desktop applications and a lot of the servers in most enterprises asking for money to secure all of that stuff felt a little, well, intimidating.

Or maybe a little strange, given that some users would surely have liked for Microsoft to have provided something beyond basic security at some point for free, just as part of its core base of products. Partners, however, probably wouldn't have liked that idea so much. Forefront presents, after all, a nice potential revenue driver, and Microsoft giving stuff away for free probably wouldn't go over all that well with the channel.

Anyway, we bring all this up now because Microsoft released this week the beta of its new Forefront offering, codenamed "Stirling." Simply put, the idea behind Stirling is that it will do...well, pretty much everything. Stirling is -- or will be, when Microsoft releases it in the first half of next year -- a sort of blanket woven together using material from Microsoft's current Forefront offerings and a few other security and access-control technologies to boot.

"You might have one machine being infected by a Trojan," posed Paul Bryan, director of product management for security and access products at Microsoft, in a recent chat with RCPU. "With traditional systems in place, that would take the IT administrator figuring out what was wrong and going through individual machines to investigate."

With Stirling, Bryan said, the infected machine would send a signal to the Internet, and Stirling's network-edge security technology would intercept the signal, scan the machine and remove the malware before it could spread. Just like that!

For partners, Stirling's comprehensive nature makes it a potential moneymaker, Bryan said: "A partner can have a very deep and productive discussion with a customer to say, 'Where are you in each of these areas?' All of that accrues to that same selling model."

There are simplified licensing options to make buying and selling easier, too.

Of course, one question does remain: How much do customers trust Microsoft when it comes to security? And are partners confident enough in Forefront to recommend it? Windows Live OneCare, the more consumer-oriented anti-virus software, has gotten better but was a real dud when it came out.

Forefront seems to have had a better (if not exactly red-hot) reception, and Stirling's integration and breadth of functionality seem pretty impressive, too -- but it's still Microsoft offering its protection, stepping further into a security market that other vendors have been in for a long time. And Microsoft's reputation for security is...well, better than it used to be, but still not as strong as it could be.

By this time next year, we might know just how many holes there are in Microsoft's security blanket. Wait...a security blanket full of holes -- now there's a great idea for an RCP cover! Maybe it could be wrapped around a gangster...

What has your experience with Forefront been as a partner? As a user? Sound off at [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on April 10, 2008