Over the last few years, the nature of security solutions has been evolving to meet the growing and increasing nature of the IT security threat.

We've seen a move away from server based security software and we're now entering a new era in security - that of the appliance.
Security appliances arrived on the scene about six years ago. The first type to take off was the firewall appliance. Products such as the WatchGuard Firebox grew in popularity and today there is a wide range of firewall/VPN appliances, according to the analysts, overtaking software based firewalls in popularity.

Other security applications have migrated from software to hardware devices, such as anti-virus, intrusion detection, DOS/ DDoS (denial of service and distributed denial of service) protection, URL filtering, bandwidth management, wireless security and application acceleration. The result is that security appliances sales have surged across a wide range of applications.

A logical progression of this trend, as the power and speed of hardware devices continues to grow, is an increase in the functionality of individual devices, coupled with easier and more comprehensive management functions.

So multi-function devices, which provide a range of security solutions in one machine (such as the FortiGate anti-virus firewall/VPN, which also provides content inspection and intrusion detection) are becoming ever more popular with large, distributed enterprises and with remote offices.

It's not hard to see why appliances have found favor in an environment where security threats continue to proliferate, both in number and in scope, and where skilled security staff are a rare and expensive commodity. Appliances can provide many of the benefits that organizations require - from low cost and high performance, through to ease-of-use and ease-of-management.

Appliances are typically easier to install than server-based security software, making them attractive to SMEs and enterprises alike. As they are not server based, hardware devices have the huge financial benefit of avoiding many of the expensive overheads associated with server management and patching, a major cost for companies both in down time and in expensive staff time.

Not only do hardware devices have a very compelling ROI case, they are also (with a few exceptions) easily scalable to meet users' constantly increasing performance requirements. Many appliances, such as those from WatchGuard, Fortinet and RapidStream, are adopting ASIC (application specific integrated circuit) technology. ASIC is the next high speed generation of appliance technology and delivers wire speed performance for demanding user environments.

Conclusion The migration from server based solutions to security appliances is a logical progression. The next challenges for the increasingly ubiquitous appliance lie in three key areas - performance, where only wire speed is going to be good enough for enterprises; management where ease-of-deployment and ease of ongoing management and maintenance will be key; and functionality, as users require their appliances to deliver more and more of their security requirements. 

Ian Kilpatrick is chairman of Wick Hill Group, a company specializing in secure infrastructure solutions for e-business. www.wickhill.com