For many SMBs, security appliances are the best solution to their security needs as they are very affordable, offer excellent protection, and require little or no technical expertise to install or maintain. For those same reasons, valued-added resellers (VARs) find appliances to be a relatively easy sell.

Among the easiest appliances for VARs to sell are functional, manageable and upgradeable devices, notably unified threat management (UTM) appliances, which are available from many vendors such as Cisco, Fortinet, SonicWall and WatchGuard. The UTM concept is based on the assumption that a combination of security solutions bundled in the same appliance creates a better security umbrella for organizations, said Ariel Avitan, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

"Another main advantage of UTM solutions is their low cost in comparison to purchasing many different security solutions," said Avitan. "These two advantages are driving the rapid adoption of UTM solutions by SMB customers."

Typical UTM solutions include a firewall, intrusion prevention system/intrusion detection system (IPS/IDS), an AV (Antivirus), an AS (Anti-Spam) component and a virtual private network (VPN).

The shift in business to the Web has exposed small businesses to multiple security risks, which they often struggle to counteract due to limited IT and financial resources.

"The solution for many SMBs is a security appliance, because it is easy to manage, affordable and doesn't require them to be security experts," said John Keenan, VP of Distribution, Americas for SonicWALL, a security vendor. Keenan said three factors are driving appliance sales in the SMB market: the proliferation of broadband; intelligent controls on the boxes; and SMBs' appetite for enhanced security.

Security appliances are very affordable

Products range in price from a hundred dollars to several thousand dollars.

A low-end offering such as the ZyWALL 2 Plus costs a little more than $100 but delivers quite a bit. It supports IPSec VPN, which makes it suitable for remote site to central server deployment and home to office or office to home deployments. Data encryption over the Internet ensures secure transmission between two sites, eliminating the need for expensive leased lines, and enabling global interconnectivity at a minimal expense.

The ZyWALL 2 Plus provides robust firewall protection, based on stateful packet inspection (SPI) and denial of service (DoS) technology. The ZyWALL 2 Plus provides the first line of defense against hackers, and other malicious threats.

If you choose to go up a notch, a Cisco ASA 5500 will set you back anywhere from $700 to $5000 dollars. A low-end Cisco ASA 5500 is an easy to deploy solution that integrates world class firewall, unified communications (voice/video) security, SSL and IPsec VPN, intrusion prevention (IPS), and content security services in a flexible, modular product family.

Designed as a key component of the Cisco Self-Defending Network, the ASA 5500 provides intelligent threat defense and secure communications services that stop attacks before they impact business continuity.

A high-end appliance can cost several thousand dollars. For example, the Blue Coat ProxyOne, a new device aimed at SMBs, starts at $8,999 for 100 users. The price includes the appliance, software licenses, automatic security updates and 24X7 support. The appliance can scale to support up to 2,000 users.

For your money, you get Web filtering, inline malware and anti-virus scanning, as well as on-box reporting (reports generated by the product; no add-ons needed) to enable safer use of Web 2.0 applications. A ProxyOne box delivers real-time Web defense, using the cloud-based Blue Coat WebPulse service. Additionally, Blue Coat security experts continually update the WebPulse defenses to protect against new threats.

Excellent protection

A security appliance, such as a UTM solution, provides comprehensive protection to customers as it has tightly integrated security features that work together on a single appliance, said Keenan. This class of appliance makes it easy for SMBs to manage their security because they only have to deal with one box and one source of support. Such an appliance solution is highly cost-effective as it offers a centralized console that enables monitoring of network security at remote locations.

Besides UTMs, the security appliance market includes standalone appliances (which deliver a single security application), blade appliances (a hybrid between UTMs and standalone devices) and software appliances.

All-in-one security appliances require little or no user technical expertise to install or maintain. This makes them appealing to SMBs and VARs. SMBs like these boxes because of their simplicity and practicality, while VARs like them because they are generally bullet proof in their reliability, and provide the proverbial foot-in-the-door to sell services.

"Some SMBs still need our expertise, whether it's assessing their securing vulnerabilities, configuring the products, or providing remote monitoring through a managed service," said Alvin Myers, president of United Systems, a VAR in Oklahoma City.

Herman Mehling has written about IT for more than 25 years. He has worked for many leading computer publications and websites, including Computer Reseller News, eWeek, and InformationWeek. Currently, he contributes regularly to and Enterprisestorageforum.comas well as