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6/4/2007
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Microsoft Stirling Promises Integrated Forefront Security Info

Product announced Monday promises to deliver security information about clients, servers, and networks to a single console.

It didn't take Microsoft long to figure out that all of the servers, software, and services deployed for the sake of IT security generally lack a management interface that can pull together and make sense of all the information being collected. The company responded Monday at its TechEd show with the introduction of an upcoming Forefront product code-named "Stirling," which promises to deliver security information about clients, servers, and networks to a single console.

The thinking is that, when Stirling hits the streets, IT and security managers will have one place to consult when they want to deploy and manage their Forefront PC antivirus software, server content filtering software, and network firewalls and VPNs. Characteristically, Microsoft is looking fairly far out onto the horizon, as Stirling won't be available in beta, and a limited beta at that, until the end of this year. General availability isn't scheduled until the first half of 2009.

Ultimately, Stirling will become an umbrella product through which Microsoft will sell Forefront security products to protect client, server, and network devices. The company says it will continue to sell stand-alone Forefront products as well.

Unfortunately, Stirling will not manage security software from other vendors, which means that, if companies have already invested in Symantec Norton AntiVirus Enterprise Edition, McAfee Host Intrusion Prevention for servers, and/or Trend Micro ScanMail, they won't be able to set and enforce policies for those products via Stirling. And they'll have to look elsewhere for a truly comprehensive picture of their IT security operations. "The scope is that this will manage Forefront products," says Josue Fontanez, Microsoft's senior product manager for Forefront client security. "We're not announcing any support for third-party products."

"Microsoft has heard that argument before," that customers have already invested in security software from a multitude of vendors, says Margaret Dawson, Microsoft's group product manager for security and access product marketing, "But people continue to buy Forefront. Customers want one company to work with."

Microsoft expects that Stirling should play an important role in its Network Access Protection, or NAP, policy enforcement platform built into Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008, formerly known as Longhorn. Stirling's role in this set-up will be to ensure that PCs, mobile devices, and other endpoints trying to connect into a company's network are clean prior to being inspected by NAP.

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