Microsoft's ISA Server 2004 hits the streets

Security offering boasts new filtering and firewall capabilities, real time monitoring of log entries

Amid a concerted effort to heighten the profile of its security offerings, Microsoft Corp. announced the availability of its Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2004 on Tuesday at its Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto.

ISA Server 2004 is an application-layer firewall, VPN (virtual private network) and Web cache product aimed at improving users' network security. Microsoft rolled out a public beta of the offering in January, touting improvements in security and caching, as well easier management and integration over its previous ISA Server 2000.

The product also boasts new application-layer filtering and firewall capabilities, extended protocol support, multiple network configurations and real time monitoring of log entries, Microsoft said.

ISA Server 2004 is priced in line with the previous version, at $1,499 per processor, according details of the product posted on the Redmond, Washington, software maker's Web site. The version currently available is the Standard Edition, with the Enterprise Edition due out later in the year.

Along with announcing the availability of ISA Server 2004 Tuesday, the company also noted a slew of related partner announcements, saying that 10 companies including McAfee Inc., Panda Software Inc., RSA Security Inc. and SurfControl PLC had agreed to support the product.

Additionally, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) signed up as a hardware partner, saying that it was offering the HP ProLiant DL320 Firewall/VPN/Cache Server running ISA Server 2004.

The launch of ISA Server 2004 was widely anticipated and thoroughly talked up at Microsoft's recent Tech Ed developer conferences in San Diego and Amsterdam.

Speaking last month at Tech Ed in Amsterdam, Microsoft Chief Technology Officer for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) Jonathan Murray said that the company had changed the way it is thinking of delivering products, with a new focus on application lifecycle. ISA Server 2004 is intended to incorporate this new outlook by offering expanded support and tighter integration, he said.

However, RedMonk LLC analyst James Governor expressed concern Wednesday that Microsoft's integration strategy was not the best way to approach security.

"I really have some issues with so much interdependency," Governor said. "You want to be able to secure each piece of infrastructure independently."

ISA Server has been losing momentum recently, he said, with fewer OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) agreeing to ship the software with their products.

"There are a ton of small application vendors that have come up with good propositions for HTTP caching, for example, so if Microsoft really wants to get wide adoption it needs help (from OEMs)," Governor said.

Still, Microsoft has been touting ISA Server 2004 as a central piece of its strategy to offer customers improved security products amid a wave of newfangled threats. The software maker has seen itself as a prized target of virus writers and hackers in recent months, prompting it to bolster its defenses or face losing users.

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