Each product in the Gateway Security 300 Series will include six integrated security functions, along with an option for a secure wireless access point for LANs (local area networks), according to Symantec.
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"We've been providing security appliance solutions for a number of years and have made some advances," said George Sluz, a group product manager at the Cupertino, Calif.-based company. "We have a number of models for large enterprises but wanted to target small businesses. In the past, people have mainly relied on firewalls and VPNs (virtual private networks)."
The devices integrate firewall, intrusion prevention, intrusion detection, antivirus policy enforcement, content-filtering and VPN capabilities. There are three models in the series: the 320, 360 and 360R. They are designed to analyze information packets and their destinations, to block malicious packets, to monitor computers for viruses, and to automatically update Symantec antivirus software.
Each appliance also includes an automatic-dial back-up feature, designed to ensure that a company's Internet connection isn't lost if a main broadband connection falters.
"The appealing thing about this appliance is you plug it in and it goes," said Steve Hunt, an analyst with Forrester Research. "So, theoretically, small businesses can buy this appliance and avoid hiring a systems integrator to install it."
The products will hit the market in late April, with a starting price of about $400 for the low-end models, such as the Gateway Security 320, which can accommodate roughly 50 users, according to Symantec. The optional wireless LAN access point will cost an additional $200 or so.
Symantec plans to market the appliances through system integrators and through direct Web marketers.
The customers most likely to use Symantec's new security appliances are businesses that rely on Internet access, Sluz said. For example, a neighborhood grocery store is not likely to install such a device, but a small company that relies on Net access to communicate with a satellite office is.
Internet penetration among businesses with 21 to 49 employees is nearly 90 percent, while companies with 50 to 99 employees have a penetration rate of 93 percent, according to a 2002 IDC report on small businesses in the United States. These two groups combined represent roughly 29 percent of IT purchases.
Complexity of technology may also play a role for prospective customers. Sluz noted that small businesses usually don't have a full-time IT staff. He said the integrated Gateway Security appliances will help companies get around any problems connecting up a number of security devices by putting them all in one box.
Symantec isn't the only security vendor trying to tap into the small and midsize markets. Competitors such as NetGear and Linksys offer similar products.