Feb 29, 2012 (06:02 AM EST)
How To Evaluate Next-Generation Firewalls

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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 as well. 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. While solutions such as intrusion detection or intrusion prevention systems (IDS/IPS), virtual private networks (VPN) and web application firewalls are common features of a NGFW, other vendors tout features such as SSL acceleration or WAN acceleration as a component, 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.

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A December 2011 Gartner report on next-generation firewalls portrays a nascent, but quickly expanding market for the technology. It estimated that when the books are closed on 2011, the firewall market, including NGFW, would 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, as Gartner notes that currently, less than 5% of Internet connections are protected by NGFWs, but that by 2014, that 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 last fall for branch offices.

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