SaaS Web security a cheaper option, McAfee says

By Kathleen Lau, Computerworld Canada |  Security, McAfee

Santa Clara, Calif.-based security vendor McAfee Inc. released a software-as-a-service Web security tool for protecting a distributed workforce from Web threats, while rendering IT departments fewer upfront costs in light of current budgetary constraints.

Especially in tough economic times, a SaaS model of software delivery, like the McAfee Web Protection Service, saves cash-strapped organizations money because IT staff don't have to spend valuable time managing on-site equipment, said Mark Campbell, senior product marketing manager with McAfee Inc. "They get the advantages of having a tool that is always on, always up-to-date and with uptime guarantees," said Campbell.

One challenge with on-premise tools, he continued, is that when vendors issue a feature update, a period of time can elapse before the enhancements are up and running in the environment, said Campbell.

Features of the hosted security offering include reputation-based filtering, based on McAfee's reputation system TrustedSource, to block constantly morphing threats. There's flexible policy manager for setting policies for certain employee groups like access to certain social networking sites by contract employees versus executive management. Users have the ability to run reports and use dashboards to reap insight into an organization's Web usage. "Are they spending all day on Facebook ... and see how this aligns with our appropriate usage of Web tools?" said Campbell.

Other features include malware protection, remote office and user support, and transparent user authentication.

The offering, said Campbell, is great for customers looking to move from an on-premise to hosted approach, but it can also complement investments already made in the on-site infrastructure, "so that's where the service can come in and fill in the gaps."

The offering is scalable upwards and downwards, he said, and from a cost perspective, "very predictable" because it's based on user count.

James Quin, senior research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Ltd., can't yet say if McAfee's SaaS offering will be cheaper in the long run given monthly recurring costs for the service. That said, in this climate of eliminated capital budgets, Quin said "a solution like this offers them value there."

Small organizations in particular, said Quin, will benefit from not having to retain as much security expertise.

Offering a SaaS option for malware technology that is "pretty commoditized" is certainly a move by McAfee to differentiate itself in a crowded space, said Quin.

"And it puts them out front first because they're not going to be the last ones to offer this kind of service," he said.

Campbell thinks customers' perception of hosted security products has changed for the better, helped along by the successful adoption of hosted CRM tools like salesforce.com. "More and more IT departments are beginning to accept and really realize the benefits of it," said Campbell.

There is a better comfort level towards hosted security solutions but only among certain aspects of security, noted Quin, explaining that more basic functionalities like those offered with this tool by McAfee has garnered acceptance. But Quin thinks more complex capabilities like accessing internal data files has not seen the same level of confidence, and perhaps never will.

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