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Security to Dominate at Microsoft's TechEd

Microsoft's all-out "defense in depth" security message is expected to dominate the discussions at its sold-out TechEd conference in San Diego, which kicks off Monday.

From Chief Executive Steve Ballmer's opening keynote, to the hundreds of breakout sessions, software security discussions will be infused throughout the show. The conference is billed as the definitive Microsoft conference for building, deploying, securing, and managing connected applications.

In recent months, the software giant has used every opportunity to identify security as a top priority and analysts expect much of the same at TechEd. There, a final release of the Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2004 will be announced, along with news of an updated beta of the Windows XP Service Pack 2.

In addition, Microsoft is expected to announce details of its Microsoft Visual Studio Team System, an extensible tools platform to help reduce time and complexity involved with building service oriented architectures.

The ISA Server 2004, which has gone through several public betas, is a combination application layer firewall, virtual personal network (VPN) and Web caching repository. It helps protect applications such as Microsoft Exchange, Web server Internet Information Services and SharePoint portal. But in theory, ISA could protect any application within its boundaries, including ones running on Linux or UNIX.

Microsoft has redesigned the user interface and replaced the standard Microsoft Management Console (MMC) plug-in used in the first version. Several enhancements are part of the official announcement which will form part of Ballmer's opening keynote on Monday.

The conference comes on the heels of the company's Government Leaders Forum-Americas 2004, where Ballmer made a guarantee that Microsoft will have "the most secure software in the world." Analysts expect those assurances to continue at TechEd.

Ballmer said Windows is the most popular operating system, and therefore is attacked the most. "We're learning from all those attacks. Some days the only thing I can be happy with on the security front is that we're getting smarter fast. But this is a very important issue so we have to build more secure products, better ways of isolating, better resiliency so these systems, even if they are attacked, can be made to continue to operate, faster updating and better security overall," he said at the Forum-America's gathering.

Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio is expecting TechEd to provide the muscle behind the public relations push on the security front. "They have to be serious about showing partners and customers that the security message isn't just for PR. They are facing a near constant assault on all of their top products so I expect security will figure prominently," DiDio told internetnews.com.

Outside of the keynotes, conference tracks carry the security theme. Several sessions have been organized to spell out the latest security features in Windows Server System and how to design and deploy a secure integrated infrastructure.

Sessions feature how to implement enterprise firewall security without compromising performance; deploy a Microsoft Windows public key infrastructure and use single sign-on, patch management, secure remote access and networking; and drill-downs on the latest security tools and technologies.

Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox also expects a lot of discussion around the Windows XP Service Pack 2, which is now in beta.

The service pack will make significant changes to deal with increased network protection, memory protection, improved e-mail security and enhanced browsing security.

"It won't be unreasonable to expect an SP 2 release candidate 2 announcement next week," Wilcox said, referring to an updated service pack beta with expected changes to default settings. (Jupiter Research and this publication have the same parent company.)

Yankee Group's DiDio expects to see Microsoft placing a lot of emphasis on the small business market during TechEd. "I imagine we'll be hearing a lot about the integration capabilities for the Windows Small Business Server 2003. It bundles nicely with Sharepoint and CRM 2.1 so I won't be surprised to hear a lot of buzz around those products."

At the show, several Microsoft partner vendors will roll out product upgrades, including a new patch management platform from Shavlik Technologies and a SmartRisk Analyzer tool from @Stake.

RSA Security also plans to make an announcement with Microsoft and IBM regarding security specification interoperability. The company is also expected to unveil the standalone RSA Federated Identity Manager and show how its products work with the WS-Federation and WS-Security specifications.