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In SSL-VPN, There Are 'Visionaries' And 'Leaders'

Research firm Gartner recently identified companies it believes are leaders and visionaries in the SSL-VPN marketplace. There are some vendors that you'd expect to see in the firm's 3Q 2006 SSL VPN Magic Quadrant report, such as Juniper, Cisco and Aventail. But there is at least one that isn't nearly as obvious.

Microsoft is not typically thought of as an enterprise hardware vendor. However, it owns a company that makes remote access SSL-VPNs and very good ones at that.

The company's Whale Communications Intelligent Application Gateway (IAG) was labeled as visionary in the Gartner report. Microsoft acquired Whale in May for an undisclosed sum.

"Microsoft is pleased to be labeled a 'Visionary' by Gartner, and we were very comfortable with the topics and criteria used in the analysis, so no surprises were raised," Joel Sloss, senior product manager of the security and access products group at Microsoft, told internetnews.com.

One of those competitors is Juniper Networks , which Gartner considers a leader.

Remote access vendor Aventail was also ranked as a leader by Gartner, an assessment that Aventail's vice president of marketing Sarah Daniels agrees with. Though Daniels isn't too concerned about Microsoft's solid ranking yet.

"Over the last several years, the main competition has been between Aventail and Juniper, as the report says, and we expect that to continue in 2007," Daniels said. "We will certainly monitor the visionaries like Microsoft, but it will take them a few years -- at least -- to become a real threat and be taken seriously by enterprise security teams. "

Gartner also considers networking giant Cisco a visionary. The company is expected to update its SSL-VPN product line with a release in early 2007.

Whether labeled "leader" or "visionary" or something in between, the market for SSL-VPNs continues to be full of opportunities for vendors. That's not to say it's not competitive.

The Gartner report illustrates that SSL-VPN users represent only a small percentage of the market for "business teleworking employees, business partners and independent and outsourced contractors," noted Microsoft's Sloss.

"Thus, we find selling SSL-VPNs to be very competitive, for both new and upgrading existing SSL-VPN customers with new capabilities," Sloss said.

Network security vendor SonicWall also thinks it has a solid competitive play in the SSL-VPN marketplace. And Jan Sijp, SonicWall's SSL-VPN product line manager, even went so far as to suggest that Gartner is missing the small and medium business segment.

"The enterprise market, as also pointed out by Gartner, provides plenty of opportunities for all SSL-VPN vendors," Sijp told internetnews.com. "The SMB market is growing at a fast rate and will act as an accelerator to the growth rate of the overall market. At this point, I believe we are in a situation where a rising tide will lift up all ships."

Aventail's Daniels expects that growth will come both from those that already have SSL-VPNs and are expanding their usage, as well as new "greenfield" organizations adopting SSL-VPNs.

For the "visionary" Microsoft, they too see more opportunities for growth for SSL-VPNs beyond what Gartner reports.

"We agree with many of the market characterizations Gartner makes, yet we see new opportunities for growth as the existing SSL-VPN market evolves to be about more than just network access," Sloss said. "Customers, and indeed the industry at large, are seeing a need for core application security to be a key part of their access solutions."