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The plan Microsoft announced last week, to acquire FrontBridge Technologies, certainly stirs things up for rivals and resellers in the managed e-mail security market.

Companies such as MessageLabs Ltd. and Postini Inc. are among the established players that Microsoft Corp. will now challenge through FrontBridge Technologies Inc.

All three companies have beefed up their channel rosters in recent months. Resellers play an important role in reaching small and midsized businesses, which vendors reckon would rather use a service than maintain an in-house e-mail security system.

Andrew Lochart, senior director of marketing at Postini, said Microsoft’s pending acquisition is a bad thing in that no company really wants to compete against Microsoft. On the other hand, Microsoft’s entrance helps validate the market, he said.

“There have been buyers out there reluctant to use a managed service for e-mail security,” Lochart said. Microsoft’s arrival, however, “sends a strong signal that [the market] must be real.” That means more potential buyers considering managed services as an e-mail security option.

John Young, president of Nemx Software Corp., said he believes the FrontBridge acquisition will provide e-mail security capability that Microsoft had previously attempted to create on its own.

Microsoft had been working on its Exchange Edge Services as a distinct e-mail security offering. Late last year, however, the company decided to incorporate some Edge Services features into an upcoming release of Exchange Server, rather than provide a separate product.

Young said he sees the FrontBridge acquisition as an effort by Microsoft to develop its own service, then “acquire [a product] already out there and migrate it into Exchange over a period of time.”

Although Nemx offers an e-mail security product, rather than a managed service, Young said he, too, thinks Microsoft’s acquisition validates his company’s product. FrontBridge’s emphasis on outbound-message filtering “provides validation for things we’ve been saving,” Young said.

One facet of Nemx’s SecurExchange aims to ensure that outgoing messages adhere to an organization’s acceptable use policy and content rules. FrontBridge’s Outbound Services automates e-mail policy enforcement for messages departing an enterprise’s network.

Both Postini and Nemx executives said they believe that Microsoft’s purchase might drive some FrontBridge reseller partners in their direction. Lochart said Postini has been picking up former FrontBridge resellers for a while. FrontBridge’s work with large companies such as Sprint caused some SMB resellers to feel threatened, he said.

Now, FrontBridge resellers will be wondering what changes may be afoot under Microsoft, Lochart said. FrontBridge resellers whose customers run Notes/Domino “have a legitimate reason to ask how long it is until Microsoft ends support” of that environment, he said.

Lochart noted that FrontBridge resellers may also be wary of the additional competitors they could face in light of Microsoft’s immense partner base.

Kirk Zynger, channels manager at Nemx, agreed. “They see this vast amount of resellers selling Microsoft product and don’t want to be a part of that,” he said. “I would expect to have a few phone calls,” he added.

Microsoft’s e-mail security splash may indeed have some resellers jumping ship. And yet Microsoft’s influence may provide the rising tide that lifts all boats.