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Microsoft promises a “rolling thunder” launch later this year of the various components of the next generation of its ForeFront security suite for client, network and cloud-based network protection.

ForeFront Code-named Stirling, the next generation of the ForeFront suite has been delayed as the software packages for anti-malware and application-layer security undergo further testing and evaluation.

Doug Leland, general manager of Microsoft’s Identity and Security Division, says ForeFront Sterling will be ready for a staggered release beginning in late 2009 to coincide with the launch of the next version of the Exchange e-mail server.

Leland tells Channel Insider that the first new ForeFront module will address e-mail security threats and protections to complement the Exchange launch. Microsoft will release remaining ForeFront modules in “rolling thunder” stages over the first half of 2010, he says.

“We feel great about where we are with our customers and beta testers,” Leland says. “We’re deploying Stirling internally across the Microsoft infrastructure, and we’re very happy how it’s going.”
Version 2 of ForeFront Code Name Stirling has been in development for more than a year and is the evolution of Microsoft’s entry products in network- and client-based anti-virus and application-layer protections. ForeFront, now in Beta 2, will include integrated identity management and identity association with threats and security policies.

ForeFront Code Name Stirling, built with the assumption that it will run on Windows Vista as a trusted platform, includes anti-malware client protections, security for collaboration software such as Exchange and SharePoint servers, and network edge security called Threat Management Gateway.

The ForeFront protection suite will include a cloud-based service called ForeFront Online Security for Exchange, a Web-based service hosted by Microsoft and delivered by solution providers to give malware and spam protections to on-premises Exchange implementations.

ForeFront is, in part, the product of Microsoft’s development of homegrown security applications and the integration of technologies acquired from companies such as Giant and Sybari. While ForeFront has enjoyed limited success in its current incarnation, analysts, solution providers and users have said that the suite and underlying technology show promise for improvement and becoming a viable solution in the marketplace to compete against security heavyweights Symantec and McAfee.

In the Stirling generation of ForeFront, Microsoft is deploying its strategy for integrating the use of identity management and user identity characteristics to assess activity, determine threats and enforce security policies.

“Identity is becoming critical for data protection and access. It’s a different approach that we have for the marketplace,” Leland says. “Symantec and McAfee have no concept of identity. They can only block access; they cannot enable access and protection.”

Microsoft has high hopes for ForeFront and attached sales associated with its security products. Leland says. Microsoft is noting an increase in sales of ForeFront licenses as an ancillary component of Exchange and SharePoint sales, Leland says. Microsoft believes the trend will continue and accelerate when Sterling hits the market.