Microsoft, Nokia Team On Security Appliance

According to documents viewed by CRN, the companies plan to offer a UTM appliance that would act as a gateway for secure VPN access to network-based applications from remote locations or mobile devices such as smart phones, according to source familiar with the vendors&' plans.

For example, the appliance would monitor e-mail, Web and application traffic between a company&'s internal network and the Internet to detect, block and prevent various security threats, the sources said, adding that the product would support Microsoft and non-Microsoft environments.

The planned product would be a special-purpose, integrated software and hardware package with a unified management framework, the sources said. It&'s designed to eliminate the need for customers to install and support multiple products to defend against Internet-based attacks.

Plans call for the appliance to be targeted at companies with 100 to 1,000 employees and carry a price of $2,500 to $4,500, sources said. It would support 100 Mbit-per-second bandwidth to external networks and more than 100 VPN connections.

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Solution providers said such a security appliance would be a universal VPN solution.

"They are attempting to compete in the space with what is being termed a universal VPN," said Phil Ernst, president and CTO of Convergence Technology Consulting, Bowie, Md. "Citrix introduced this with Citrix Access Gateway, which was the Net6 product."

The planned appliance is designed to be easy to install and maintain and would use Microsoft security technology to integrate with Windows Active Directory and Exchange, sources said. The product also would employ Nokia hardware and other Nokia technology to work well in non-Microsoft environments or mixed environments.

In September, Nokia launched a software solution called Nokia Business Center that delivers business applications and mobile e-mail to smart phones and business-optimized mobile devices.

Mirosoft and Nokia are in discussions with partners about the viability of such security appliance, so it&'s unclear when--and if--the product would go to market. Still, such an offering would help Microsoft compete in the hot security market plus give partners a familiar Windows-based tool to use, even though it could be a tough sell, solution providers say.

"Nokia has substantial experience in marketing hardware security appliances that use software from partners such as Check Point. However, these appliances have traditionally been Unix-based," said Alex Zaltsman, managing director at Exigent, Morristown, N.J. "A VPN and network monitoring appliance that runs Microsoft's operating system is a good idea but may lead to some level of pushback from security-conscious administrators who typically prefer to separate those two functions."

"If they stick with the UTM functionality without VPN, I think it could be a great product," Zaltsman added. "It may be a hit with Windows administrators, who are already familiar with the user interface of Windows software.”

Some partners expressed surprise that Microsoft is collaborating on the appliance with Nokia, a competitor in the mobile OS arena.

"An appliance would be a good thing, basically a special-purpose firewall with more features," said Robert Tedesco, CTO of Resolute, a Microsoft Business Solutions partner in Bellevue, Wash. "For some customers, the only way to get sick is from the network. This would be good, but Nokia and Microsoft have not been the best of friends over phone OS wars.

Simon Chan, director of business development at Iteration2, an Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider, said he expects Microsoft and Nokia to remain fierce rivals on the mobile phone front. He also noted that Microsoft is pairing with rivals in several other markets.

"It's interesting that Nokia and Microsoft are teaming together, but not surprising anymore with Microsoft working with RIM and Palm," Chan said. "It would help Nokia in getting a foothold in that enterprise e-mail market, where Exchange obviously is the leader. It shows how Microsoft's different product groups really are very independent organizations.”