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RSA: Trio Of Next-Gen Firewalls Try To Keep Up With Evolving Threats

Much of the attention at this week's RSA Conference 2012 will be on the next-generation firewall (NGFW) and how it is getting more sophisticated as the threats to computer networks get more sophisticated. A number of vendors will be making NGFW announcements during the conference in San Francisco, but not all solutions advertised as next-generation firewalls are created equal, says one analyst.

Much of the attention at this week's RSA Conference 2012 will be on the next-generation firewall (NGFW) and how it is getting more sophisticated as the threats to computer networks get more sophisticated. A number of vendors will be making NGFW announcements during the conference in San Francisco, but not all solutions advertised as next-generation firewalls are created equal, says one analyst.

"As with any term, once the marketing department gets hold of it, things can spread pretty dramatically," states Eric Hanselman, research director for networks at The 451 Group. Intrusion protection system/intrusion detection system (IPS/IDS), VPN and Web application firewall technologies are all common features of a NGFW, but some vendors are also toutingn features such as SSL acceleration and WAN acceleration as NGFW components, too.

Hanselman says the core functionality of a NGFW should be protecting the network from outside or inside threats. Everything else may be nice to have but not a core function. He uses an automotive analogy. "A next-generation car would include things like ABS and more sophisticated traction control--things that are related to the driving of the car, as opposed to things like air conditioning or a better sound system," he says.

A December 2011 Gartner report on NGFWs portrays a nascent but quickly expanding market for the technology. Gartner estimated that when the books are closed on 2011, the firewall market, including NGFW, will bring in $6.3 billion, up from $5.9 billion in 2010 and $5.4 billion in 2009. There is considerable opportunity for more growth: Gartner noted that while less than 5% of Internet connections are currently protected by NGFWs, by 2014 that number will grow to 35%.

The Gartner Magic Quadrant assessment of the NGFW market shows a number of vendors clumped together in the Niche Players lower-left quadrant. Only two firms are identified as Leaders in the upper right quadrant: CheckPoint Software Technologies and Palo Alto Networks, which introduced a NGFW solution for branch offices last fall .

Companies introducing NGFW solutions at RSA include Stonesoft, a niche player according to Gartner, which is introducing the Stonesoft Security Engine. The company describes the product as a "transformable" NGFW because it can be programmed by the operator as a traditional and/or next-gen firewall, a Layer 2 firewall, or a traditional or next-gen IPS. It can also be programmed to deliver VPN or universal threat management (UTM) protection.

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