Fortinet Virtualizes Appliance Portfolio

Fortinet beefed up its presence in the cloud space Monday with the launch of four new virtual appliances, catering to a growing trend of hybrid infrastructure with its integration in both physical and virtual environments.

Altogether, the comprehensive launch includes virtual versions of the company's FortiGate, FortiManager, FortiAnalyzer and FortiMail appliances. Both the FortiGate and FortiManager are currently available, while the FortiAnalyzer and FortiMail appliances will be released during Q4 2010.

Chris Simmons, Fortinet director of product strategy, said that the appliances, which are all built to run on top of VMware hypervisors, are designed to integrate in both physical and virtual environments, and work in tandem with physical infrastructures to fill in security gaps and eliminate what they call "blind spots." Essentially, the virtual offerings repair visibility impediments common in hybrid environments by providing IT administrators one interface that can manage both physical and virtual systems, he added.

"You wouldn't want to expose the hypervisor to the Internet," said. "It's good to manage both physical and virtual platforms from a central place, from one management console."

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Simmons said that the virtual appliance release addresses the growing demand for hybrid infrastructures in the enterprise as more organizations move to virtualize parts of their environment. Meanwhile, the ability to oversee both physical and virtual appliances from one window is a selling point for existing Fortinet customers who currently just have a physical IT infrastructure but are considering virtualizing it or moving it to the cloud.

Next: Virtual Offerings Serve Hybrid Environments

"With the large enterprise-kind of environments, they're going to take one system at a time and begin to virtualize them, one stack at a time," he said.

The offerings come as Fortinet channel partners say that they're consistently serving more customers that have policies requiring them to first implement a virtualized technology, if possible.

"We do have clients that have a stirct policy about virtualizing first," said Koji Mori, director of network services for CalSoft Systems, based in Torrance, Calif. "Obviously there are multiple organizations that have found that virtualization is the most cost-effective way to manage infrastructure."

Like a traditional FortiGate appliance, the virtual model is designed to protect infrastructure from a broad array of threats by combining firewall, VPN, intrusion prevention, malware prevention, application security and complete content protection, data loss prevention, Web filtering, and antispam, as well as the capability to inspect inter-zone traffic.

Meanwhile, the FortiManager is the virtual model of the command and control appliance featuring policy-based provisioning, configuration and update management for Fortinet security infrastructure ranging from a few devices to thousands of appliances.

Next: Virtualization Driven By Need For Flexibility

In addition to cutting costs, the trend toward hybrid environments is also driven by the demand for flexibility and the ability to "dial up and dial down cloud infrastructure as needed," Simmons said.

Mori said that the new stack of virtual appliances gives partners an incentive to go to existing Fortinet customers that already have internal virtualization infrastucture and give them a relatively easy way to add onto their virtual environment with few implementation hassles.

"As long as the prospect has a very strong virtualization commitment, I can't see why they wouldn't be willing to try it," Mori said. "The companies that have really committed to the virtualization infrastructure, it really maximized their value. They're able to do so many more things at a faster pace."

Mori added that the comprehensive launch had the potential to take Fortinet in a new direction, serving as a logical next step for customers eventually looking to push their infrastructure to a public cloud."

"This is another market that they might be able to step into. Cisco has always said that it's not a hardware company but a software company. I'm sure Fortinet follows into that same mindset," he said. "If they want to change gears, it's a very powerful step in that direction."