Panda Security and Microsoft have joined forces to provide antivirus as a service on Windows Azure, Microsoft's cloud computing platform.

To kick off the collaboration, the pair is hosting a new version of the Panda Cloud Office Protection (PCOP) service on Azure. Panda's service combines malware protection for PCs, servers, and notebooks with cloud-based management and signature updates.

In addition to malware protection for endpoints, Cloud Office Protection offers centralized device access policy enforcement. This helps close one of the most stubbornly persistent avenues of attack for malware: the USB port.

Panda is not alone in the cloud-based security game. Companies such as Symantec and Trend Micro also offer malware protection solutions in which data centers do most of the heavy lifting. Delivering timely and efficient protection calls for massive data storage, processing, and bandwidth capabilities -- something that cloud computing platforms are ideally positioned to provide.

Last month, Rick Carlson, President of Panda Security USA, told eSecurity Planet, "We have about 35 terabytes of information in the cloud about the files that we see, and Collective Intelligence allows us to provide protection quicker. It may take hours to push signature updates out, but we can provide protection from the cloud in about six minutes."

Panda views the Azure partnership as an opportunity to improve the scale, reach, and performance of its antivirus technology. According to Pedro Bustamante, a senior research advisor at Panda, "The agreement with Microsoft has increased our management capabilities. It has provided us with virtually unlimited IT infrastructure and enhanced our dynamic adjustment capabilities."

By migrating to the Azure platform, which runs across multiple data centers operated by Microsoft, Panda can serve more customers and deploy the service to more countries. And it can accomplish this with greater reliability: According to the company, the Azure partnership will prevent service downtime.

The move to Azure also helps improve product certification and quality control because the test and production environments are practically one and the same. Operating costs are reduced as well -- up to 30 percent, according to company estimates.

Prior to the switch, Panda Cloud Office Protection ran on the company's own infrastructure. Among the chief reasons for the move to Microsoft's cloud is that Azure's Platform as a Service (PaaS) model provides abstraction from infrastructure, giving Panda more flexibility to manage and deploy its services. Panda was also drawn to the platform's elastic underpinnings, which allow the company to scale up or down in response to demand, and its self-service, pay-per-use mechanisms.

Current customers shouldn't notice a thing when Microsoft's servers take over. They will be upgraded automatically and non-disruptively, according to the company.

For Microsoft, bringing Panda into the fold is another feather in Azure's cap.

"This partnership shows our continued commitment to bringing the most innovative solutions to market," says Gonzalo Die, director of Platforms and Development at Microsoft Iberica, the software company's subsidiary in Spain. "We are delighted that Panda Security, the first IT security company to harness the power of cloud computing, has chosen Windows Azure to streamline the processes related to Panda Cloud Office Protection."

Note: New customers can sign up for a free beta of Cloud Office Protection 6.0.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to the IT Business Edge Network. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of IT-related websites and as the Green IT curator for GigaOM Pro. Follow him on Twitter: @PedroHernandez

Photography courtesy of Andrew Fogg.