A unified threat management, or UTM, appliance may not be the sexiest technology going, but in terms of keeping your business network safe from external threats, we'll take effective over flashy any day. A UTM box plugs into your network and typically provides a range of features such as a firewall, remote access VPN, intrusion protection against worms and viruses, Web filtering and more.
Buying one that provides the kind of reliable protection a small business needs can be daunting at best. We spoke with Don Fuller, territory manager for small business solutions at Check Point Software, a company that provides UTM solutions, to get his take on what to consider when shopping for a network security solution. He offered up the following four tips.
1. Fly Business-Class
Buying a business-class (versus consumer-class) UTM tops Fuller's tip list. Consumer-based UTM devices typically include those from companies like DLink, NetGear and Linksys that you find in stores such as Best Buy or Staples. He contends it's worth spending a bit more to buy a product designed especially for the small-to-medium business.
"Consumer product features and cost of ownership don't scale well," said Fuller. "They don't come with ongoing update service, and they're not designed to stop the kind of Internet threats that occur in business networks as apposed to consumer networks."
An example of such threats, he said, are hackers that troll the Internet looking for information they can resell. Fuller believes hackers tend to look for networks that use static IP addressing instead of the dynamic addressing typically found with cable and DSL (i.e., consumer) networks.
"Businesses offer hackers more opportunity than do consumers. They aren't looking for cable or DSL networks so much as they are looking for hard IP addresses found on T-1 connections," he said.
2. Subscribe Now
Fuller also recommends buying a UTM solution that includes subscription-based service updates.
"Service updates provide improvements on the appliance features and the firmware. They can also include bug fixes to repair any vulnerabilities in the code or they can automatically extend the warranty of an appliance," he said.
3. And Kick the Tires, Too
When you buy a car, conventional wisdom says always look under the hood. Fuller said the same holds true for a UTM device. One device can provide many different types of security features. The question to ask, Fuller said, is who's providing them?
"Lots of UTM features come from different third party companies. Be sure to ask which company's services are layered into the appliance you're considering," said Fuller. "Are they best-of-breed-components? Have you ever heard of that particular solution?"
4. Reject Hidden Costs
Finally, don't ignore the total cost of ownership. Fuller said that many small businesses believe that you buy security as a product instead of as a process. But that's not the way to buy.
"Some products on the market will nickel-and-dime you on functionality," said Fuller. "The box is cheap, but they rack up bucks by adding functionality. Look at the whole package how much the box costs is only part of the equation. How much it costs with all the features turned on is the real question," he said.
For example, Check Point starts it's UTM pricing at a $390 flat rate. That's for a device to cover up to five people with all the features turned on. You then pay an annual fee of $150 for service updates.
Of course, it shouldn't be a surprise that Fuller recommends his company's products. But these tips will give you a head start regardless of where you ultimately purchase a UTM solution.
Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com
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