Companies can purchase Secure Content Management (SCM) software, but a rapidly growing alternative is to install an SCM appliance instead.

''Appliances are hot in companies of all sizes, but the small-to-medium business market and the remote office or branch office market environments are the sweet spot,'' says IDC analyst Brian E. Burke. ''These environments often look for 'staff-easy' solutions that require minimal human intervention and relatively little training to manage.''

Burke notes that larger enterprises which want to configure and customize settings for different work groups and business units would be less likely to adopt the appliance approach.

Executives looking for a little less granular control and a lot more ease-of-use would turn to appliances.

According to IDC, the SCM appliance market hit $131 million in 2003. While this is a fraction of the $3.4 billion spent on SCM software that year, the appliance market is growing faster than the software market and actually is expected to surpass $1 billion by 2008.

Maurice Smith, network security manager for the U.S. Department of Defense's Forensic Toxicology Drug Testing Laboratory at Fort Meade, Maryland., uses Symantec Corp.'s 5420 Gateway Security appliance to provide spam filtering, antivirus and intrusion detection. The lab processes specimens from 800,000 soldiers, looking for any evidence that they're using illegal substances.

''If a soldier gets a positive result on a test, that is the end of his career,'' says Smith. ''We don't want anybody to be able to enter our system and alter any results to give someone a false positive or negative.''

Smith installed the Symantec box and configured it to his specifications in two days. He then reduced the amount of spam they receive by blocking the few domains where most of it originated. In addition, he has been able to use features in the appliance to enforce user data access policies, something that was simply a trust issue previously.

For this kind of installation, Smith says it makes sense to purchase an appliance rather than software.

''It saves money in the long run to have one box that can do it all for us,'' he says.