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2/7/2011
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Blue Coat Unveils Cloud Security Platform For SMBs

The subscription service monitors and manages Web traffic on a company's networks, regardless of whether users are in the office or accessing internal systems remotely.

Blue Coat Threat Protection Dashboard
(click image for larger view)
Blue Coat Threat Protection Dashboard

Blue Coat on Monday launched a cloud-based security platform that the company hopes will increase its traction with small and midsize businesses (SMBs) struggling to protect their systems from online threats.

The platform's initial subscription service is geared to monitor and manage Web traffic on a company's networks, regardless of whether users are in the office or accessing internal systems remotely. In lieu of an on-site security appliance, Blue Coat directs all of a customer's Web requests to its own servers. When Blue Coat's systems identify potential threats such as malware, it won't deliver the content to the end user. The service is based on Blue Coat's existing WebPulse system, which the company said handles 8 billion Web requests per day from 70 million users.

"This is a good opportunity for us to show that we have not just the security expertise to help mitigate some of those issues, but we now have the delivery vehicle so that [SMBs] can get that access to a lot of that protection mechanism," said Anthony James, Blue Coat's vice president of product management and product marketing for cloud services.

The vendor built its core business with appliance-based Web security systems tailored for enterprise clients. James believes the flexibility and cloud basis of the new service -- dubbed Blue Coat Cloud Service -- will help it stake a bigger claim in the SMB arena, particularly among firms with mobile employees or a "distributed workforce."

The service also includes inline scanning and antivirus protection, and enables policy-based Web monitoring: Managers can set up rules governing what users on their network can -- and can't -- do on their network. For example, an administrator can restrict access to social sites to particular users.

"Social networking is obviously a big topic right now, and there are a lot of implications both from a malware perspective, but also from a productivity and usability perspective," James said, noting that Blue Coat's new service allows administrators to regulate what users can do on social sites and other Web applications, beyond simply allowing or denying access.

"Just denying Facebook would not be an appropriate policy for most [companies] because their employees might use it for business purposes," James said. "You can deny people from posting status updates in Facebook, or you can stop them from participating in Facebook email and instant message types of experiences, stop them from uploading photos and videos."

That type of action-specific application control, James said, can help a company simultaneously address productivity and security concerns in Web environments.

To be sure, Blue Coat Cloud Service is not strictly tailored for smaller firms. Though an organization can purchase as little as a single user license, it can likewise purchase many thousands -- there is no upper limit. But James believes that scalability, coupled with the cloud infrastructure, makes the solution a natural fit for SMBs. For example, a small, high-growth startup won't have to worry about outgrowing an expensive appliance solution -- they can simply add additional seats. Pricing varies based on the total number of users -- roughly $20 per user, per year on average, according to James, though the price can get down to about $12 for larger clients.

Because the application is online rather than client-side, the service is largely device-agnostic, which makes SMBs with a mobile workforce a natural target for the vendor. But Blue Coat also sees opportunity in smaller firms without remote staffers, especially those that lack experience in Web security or offload IT responsibilities to a generalist or part-time employee. For example, the new service can help companies identify internal networks that have been compromised -- say, if a system is attempting to perform botnet command and control functions and sending out private data.

"This gives that small-customer environment a true experience of all of the sophisticated techniques of security, from Web filtering to dynamic malware protection, without having to go and buy appliances and figuring out how to glue it all together," James said.

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