"Today, workers have to figure out how to translate all that information into configurations and protect everything themselves, which is a real challenge, and each application requires its own infrastructure for reporting and defining policies, so work tends to be replicated across operations," Fontanez said. "If a complex threat emerges today, there is still a lot of manual work necessary to mitigate the attack, and we feel we can greatly simplify that process by bringing these pieces together."
In addition to more comprehensive and centralized reporting, Stirling will also aim to help IT administrators simplify the process of creating and enforcing security policies and configurations. After creating the rules in the software's centralized management console, workers will be able to distribute the guidelines throughout their network and client systems, Microsoft said.
Another significant piece of the puzzle will be Stirling's tight integration with NAP, Microsoft's flavor of network access control, which aims to help organizations better identify machines as they log onto their networks and test the devices' security settings before granting them entry.
Already present in Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system, NAP will also be integrated into the company's Windows Server 2008 package, code-named Longhorn, which is due to ship to manufacturers some time before the end of 2007.
Industry watchers observed that it will take Microsoft several years to get all the different elements of the Stirling package to work closely together but noted that Redmond has delivered on its promises thus far in terms of delivering its security products on schedule.
Chris Christiansen, analyst with IDC, said that Microsoft understands that it still not perceived as a leader in the security space, where players like Symantec and McAfee have been marketing similar packages of integrated products for years.
Adoption of its rivals' integrated platforms, however, remains nascent, giving the software giant time to get its unified applications package together, he said.
"The scary part about Microsoft for these companies is that when they say they'll do something with security, they've done it right," Christiansen said. "IT organizations still tend to be fairly segmented with responsibilities broken down between numerous departments and environments; the idea of everyone understanding their roles and working together is a wonderful idea, but it is still taking time for customers to get there."
Companies are also working to blend security, storage, and networking capabilities, but the efforts remain in the early stages for all but the most forward enterprise companies, he added.
The analyst said that it will still take another four-to-five years for most enterprise companies to begin looking at security in a truly integrated fashion with SMBs adopting the approach faster to help control costs.
Christiansen explained that the integration with NAP and Microsoft's existing interoperability relationship with Cisco System's NAC technology could also be appealing to customers as they seek to prevent virus outbreaks and increase control over endpoint devices.
If Microsoft can deliver Stirling as promised and on schedule, he said that the company should be able to close the lead that Symantec and McAfee have established by already having their integrated products to market.
"Microsoft has a chance to do [integrated security] well within their environment, especially as you move out of the enterprise to the mid-tier where skills and budgets are lower and the desire to work heavily on security issues deceases," Christiansen said. "[Stirling] should also appeal to managed security services providers and large companies with a lot of smaller divisions, and Microsoft will add new products and services into the mix as they are introduced."