Fresh from the ComNet Show in Washington D.C., I'm pleased to report I met a fair number of hardware vendors who are pretty keyed up over the burgeoning remote office and small and midsize enterprise (SME) markets. Even a couple of "heavy iron" companies politely picked my brain for ways to get their big feet in the little door. But for better or worse, most agreed that success in these markets hinges on forging partnerships with the first-to-arrive broadband service providers.
Take SonicWall. This Internet security appliance manufacturer sells a variety of products aimed at enterprise teleworkers, as well as SMEs. Its strategy is that rather than wrangle with firewalls, VPNs and antivirus software, you simply add a Sonic Wall device to your network. Simply, that is, if you are your own network administrator. From what I hear, SonicWall devices aren't particularly difficult to set up, but you need to know what you're doing. (They're going to send me one and I'll try to set it up myself. Stay tuned.)
But SonicWall's big news at ComNet was the introduction of Total Secure, a security service for SMEs that will be available through two partners, All Bases Covered and the Network Associates company myCIO. These outsourcing companies (or managed service providers) supply everything you need to run a small office -- the network PCs, connectivity, administration and maintenance, all for a monthly per user fee.
TotalSecure supplies the hardware and provides round-the-clock security monitoring, including firewall protection, virtual private networking, antivirus tools and Internet content filtering. While SonicWall is also working on deals with service providers who will offer the box to their business customers, the company says it's still too early to name names. SonicWall's plan is a good one. While many small businesses "get by" from managing their own networks, when it comes to security they're often in over their heads or simply not aware of the risks. A recent Gartner report claims by 2003, 50% of SMEs will have suffered some form of hacker or virus attack.
In a similar vein, Filanet offers an interesting Internet appliance for small businesses and remote offices. This is also done through service provider partners. The InterJak 200 is a network in a box, providing IP routing, network address translation, DHCP client and server features, and file and print sharing. The WAN version that connects to your DSL connection and VPN is an option.
One benefit to this type of managed hardware is that as Filanet adds features to its box, the service provider can simply turn them on in your box remotely. Coming soon is network monitoring, data backup, e-mail, content filtering and bandwidth shaping. Bandwidth shaping is a quality-of-service scheme that will let you assign particular applications (like voice and video) priority over others ensuring reliable performance.
However, Filanet, as well as others I've talked to, aren't keen on sharing their partners' namees up front. Maybe this is because you've never heard of them. In general, larger providers have been slow to ink deals, which is leaving hardware vendors little choice but to partner with smaller potentially less stable companies.
But the volatile market dictates that before you sign on with any type of service package deal, do a background check on the service provider. We can't say it enough. Check out company news, and visit DSLReports.com for the scoop.
This story, "ComNet draws SMEs and wannabes" was originally published by Network World.