Anti-spam appliances are not better than software

The crucial element to any effective anti-spam solution - software, appliance or other - is software.

The growth of spam in the past five years has created such a deluge that anti-spam technology has become a necessity rather than a precaution. Enterprise customers face a choice between anti-spam software that can be deployed across any operating system and hardware platform, and anti-spam appliances that come preconfigured and ready to be installed into a rack.

There is a sound reason for this competition - different customers have different requirements. Whereas one company might want an "out of the box and into the rack" appliance with preset controls, another company might want the flexibility provided by software with comprehensive administrator settings that can be deployed on the platform of choice. However, the crucial element to any effective anti-spam solution - software, appliance or other - is software.


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Anti-spam appliance providers often tout their products as easy to install and deploy, with a low cost of security because the box is self-contained. These hardware characteristics say little, however, about the product's effectiveness in actually stopping spam. Appliances still require strong software to get the job done.

Effective software provides the flexibility necessary to thwart today's sophisticated spam attacks. Administrators need the ability to manipulate filters, monitor quarantines and receive constantly updated rules. The fight against spam is a fast-paced battle with technically proficient spammers working to defeat the latest in anti-spam technology. Companies can't afford to have a product that doesn't provide the flexibility to stay ahead of spammers.

Without effective software, hardware products such as anti-spam appliances would not be possible. Imagine a race car with an economy-car engine or a modern server powered by an Intel 286 processor. If you do not have software that is sophisticated enough to take full advantage of the hardware platform, you are left with an underpowered and underutilized device. Effective anti-spam software is platform-agnostic - it can be deployed with any operating system, used with various e-mail applications and installed on any hardware platform, including appliances.

Anti-spam software uses a multilayered approach, with controls to stop spam at the e-mail gateway, the ability to quarantine messages and more control given to end users. The most complete anti-spam software provides the best of these key characteristics - effectiveness (most spam stopped), accuracy (fewest false positives) and zero administration (automated and timely updates) - all in a platform-agnostic package.

Spam already costs U.S. companies more than $20 billion per year. If your company's anti-spam product is underpowered and ineffective, you will contribute to this figure either through lost productivity or increased vulnerability. To obtain the level of performance necessary to protect your company, strong software must be the key component of your anti-spam solution, regardless of your hardware choices.

Schneider is CTO for Brightmail, an anti-spam software vendor in San Francisco. He can be reached at cto@brightmail.com.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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