Executive Summary:
The benefits of antivirus appliances over antivirus software and hosted antivirus services are cost, performance, and ease of use. Determine whether one of these antivirus appliances is right for your Windows environment.


Here’s a scary thought: More than 80 percent of the email messages coming through your company are spam. And many of those messages aren’t merely "junk mail"—they actually contain viruses or other types of malware. In fact, email is the number-one delivery mechanism for malware.

Scores of antispam and antivirus software products exist, and many organizations rely only on software for their antivirus protection. However, keeping the software up-to-date on all the systems in your network can be extremely time consuming. In addition, software can degrade system performance if not implemented correctly.

An antivirus hardware device can provide a first line of defense against spam and malware. This Buyer’s Guide highlights several antivirus appliances for Windows networks.

How Antivirus Appliances Work
Antivirus appliances are installed at the network perimeter and scan web and email traffic, often continuously. Predefined rules (e.g., whitelists, blacklists, heuristic analysis) let the appliance easily detect viruses and malicious file downloads. Suspicious web activities such as spyware and adware downloads typically generate a warning, whereas suspicious email can be deleted or marked as possible spam.

Virus definitions and whitelists/blacklists are updated frequently to ensure that the appliance has the most current virus signature files and is detecting the latest threats. Updates typically occur automatically and can be continuous or scheduled.

Alerts are recorded in the event logs and can also be sent via email or as HTML, CSV, XML, PDF, or plain text files. Most antivirus appliances offer web-based management; a few also provide an integrated console that lets you manage virus filtering, cleaning, updates, and reporting options.

Selecting an Appliance
In selecting an antivirus appliance for your environment, the main consideration is often price—especially in these tough economic times. However, you also need to balance the performance provided by the device. You’ll want to consider the appliance’s throughput, as well as its storage capacity. Another factor to take into account is how many users or email accounts the device supports. Finally, you might want to consider the reputation of the company behind the appliance, including the support provided and the likelihood of the company to stay in business for the duration of the appliance’s lifespan.

Another Alternative: Hosted Services
An alternative to using antivirus software or an appliance is to install a hosted antivirus service on your network. Hosted services can run in the cloud and require very little overhead in many cases. No hardware or software is necessary. In addition, there is nothing to maintain or upgrade. The service provider takes care of all updates and maintenance.

The price for hosted services typically depends on the number of users you need to support. Therefore, hosted antivirus services are best implemented in smaller organizations, with 100 employees or fewer. The cost can be prohibitive in larger environments.

First Line of Defense
Antivirus software can be expensive and time consuming to keep updated, and hosted antivirus services can be cost prohibitive. You should therefore look into an antivirus appliance for your network—at least as a first line of defense. An antivirus appliance can cost less than $1 per user, requires little to no upkeep, and provides immeasurable protection against the spam and malicious applications that can plague your systems. See the accompanying table for a guide to several antivirus appliances for Windows networks.