Microsoft To Buy FrontBridge In Move To Bolster Exchange, Messaging 'Hygiene'

Terms of the deal, announced Wednesday, weren&'t disclosed. FrontBridge, Marina Del Rey, Calif., offers an add-on e-mail compliance service to large infrastructure players, including AT&T and Siemens, and to small solution providers. It competes with vendors such as Postini and MessageLabs.

Customers&' e-mail is redirected to FrontBridge's service for cleansing and filtering before delivery, said David Cohen, co-founder and vice president of FrontBridge, who will be joining Microsoft along with 160 other FrontBridge employees.

The FrontBridge service currently works with Microsoft Exchange Server and Lotus Domino mail, and it will continue to support both infrastructures, said Kim Akers, general manager of Exchange Marketing at Microsoft, Redmond, Wash.

Microsoft Exchange and infrastructure solution providers can resell the service and build an annuity stream, Cohen said. "Basically, [FrontBridge is] a brand behind the brand. Our model has been to enable partners to go to market with their own branded solution that allows them to generate a new revenue stream, more pull-through opportunities and successful [customer] retention," he said.

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FrontBridge fields its own archiving and antispam technology but uses four different antivirus engines, plugging into whichever one offers the most up-to-date profiles, Cohen said.

E-mail security and compliance remains top of mind for customers and their solution providers, Akers said. "The top issues we hear about are protecting the messaging environment, not only from spam and viruses but also [in terms of] compliance--regulatory compliance and disaster-recovery issues," she said.

Microsoft has made a rash of acquisitions related to security and compliance. Last February, the company announced plans to buy security vendor Sybari and completed the deal in June. Microsoft also acquired antispyware ISV Giant Software in December and antivirus software vendor GeCad in 2003.

The FrontBridge buy shows that Microsoft remains attracted to services, as evidenced by its acquisition of Placeware, said Matt Cain, an analyst at research firm Gartner. Microsoft bought PlaceWare, a provider of hosted Web conferencing services, early last year.

"This [FrontBridge deal] shows there is intense demand for e-mail hygiene services,” Cain said, adding that such capability will be a core part of Exchange 12. “It also shows the rapidly increasing popularity for the hosted e-mail hygiene model and the growing demand for additional e-mail services in the cloud and overall for regulatory compliance and archiving and disaster recovery.”

Exchange 12, aka E-12, is the next major release of Microsoft's e-mail server product, which is due out next year in the Office 12 time frame.

David Via, vice president of business development at the Wolcott Group, a Fairlawn, Ohio-based solution provider, said the FrontBridge deal reflects Microsoft&'s rising interest in messaging services. "This suggests to me that Microsoft is becoming increasingly serious about the hosted messaging space,” he said. “As messaging hygiene and now compliance requirements place more demands on organizations, more and more of them are going to look at a hosted model."

FrontBridge&'s services unquestionably offer opportunities for Microsoft partners, Cain said. “They can add more revenue streams and better penetrate the SMB market. The greatest appeal of these hosted services is in SMBs, where the IT groups don't have the skill set or time to do all this,” he said.

In other Microsoft news, the company also said on Wednesday that it has licensed computer security-related software patents from San Jose-based Finjan Software.

Finjan's technology monitors Web traffic and blocks malicious code based on pre-set policies.

This story was updated Wednesday evening with related Finjan news.

PAULA ROONEY contributed to this report.