Nortel and Symantec have announced a strategic alliance intended to address the growing number of security threats facing systems from networks to desktops.

Officials from the companies said their engineers jointly developed a prototype security engine using Nortel's deep-packet inspection and Symantec's experience countering global threats. The engine can be deployed within an existing switched-network infrastructure, they said.

The technology will make it possible for service providers and enterprises to eliminate threats before they spread, said Richard Pearce, senior director of business development at Symantec. Pearce added that the engine will address the most dangerous attacks within the high-speed network before they reach the servers.

The prototype is based on Nortel's switch portfolio application and tracks and stops threats using signatures updated in near real-time by Symantec's LiveUpdate technology, according to company officials.

The pair are banking on Nortel's experience providing secure networks and Symantec's position in Internet security making an ideal marriage that will deliver on the industry's need for secure communications. Symantec claims it documented 4.5 times the number of new viruses and worms in the first six months of 2004 compared to 2003.

"Service providers are positioned to be the first line of defense against many of today's threats to critical communications around the world. We are working with Symantec to provide purpose-built solutions for the service provider and enterprise space," Bill Owens, Nortel's president and CEO, said in a statement.

Peter Cellarius, business leader for security, routing and wireless at Nortel, said the growing frequency and complexity of today's threats demand an added layer of protection anchored to the network level. The result of the recent collaboration, he said, is a more proactive approach to protection.

"The network is an important piece," he said. "It is important to contain outbreaks quickly as possible before they spread."

The product is expected to hit the market sometime in 2005. Neither company could provide a more detailed timeframe other than saying they didn't expect the engine to roll out late in the year.

Cellarius also said both organizations will take on the tasks of marketing and selling the product. "Don't expect one to be hiding behind the other," he said.

Although the engine is being offered to both enterprises and service providers, Cellarius said enterprise will likely be first to jump on the earliest offerings.

Among the synergies the two companies identified within their respective offering are hosting and '"do-it-yourself" security applications, client compliancy solutions and traditional security products and services such as antivirus and firewall solutions.

The move comes at a time when Nortel, a Brampton, Ontario, company, faces increased competition from Cisco , Lucent , Alcatel , plus a growing contingent of Chinese firms that are crowding the market and driving prices down.