If you were to ask IT decision-makers what they want most from end-user security software, you probably wouldn’t expect to hear the word “less.” But for many businesses, less is indeed the magic word. They are looking for less administration, less tweaking and less training — all while ensuring less downtime for clients.
Symantec Protection Suite  (Version 3) aims to meet those needs for existing customers with the latest rendition of the Enterprise Edition and with the new and much-anticipated Small Business Edition. To determine which of these is right for your company, you must understand the differences between the two.
Both the Small Business and Enterprise editions include many of the same core components: antivirus and antispyware protection; a software firewall; intrusion prevention technology; general exploit blocking; antivirus, antispam and antiphishing features; and for Mac users, content filtering and an antivirus port.
But unlike the Small Business Edition, the Enterprise Edition includes these additional components: device and application control, a Linux antivirus suite, mobile anti-virus protection, Network Access Control self-enforcement and reputation-based spam filterin g.
And although the user interfaces are nearly identical, the implementation of the two versions is by far the most pronounced difference. One might think of the Small Business Edition as the “set it and forget it” solution: Administrators can accept all defaults during the server console installation and configuration, and then hit the ground running. Such ease of use will likely appeal to many small-business admins who are looking for a solution that works reasonably well out of the box.
But administrators at larger companies will likely want to tweak and test before going live with a solution that could affect many clients. So although the Enterprise Edition requires more configuration, it lends flexibility to the way the program behaves.
Both editions offer ease-of-use enhancements over previous iterations, not the least of which is the consolidation of the Antivirus and Firewall control panels into a single tray application. In Version 2, these applications were separate, creating a somewhat disjointed feel and forcing users to look in different areas for logging and configuration information.
Functionally, users can expect a more seamless experience, compared with that of older suite versions. The new version is less invasive out of the box and seems to know when a given permission is obvious. For example, where Version 2 would prompt users to allow or deny every single incoming ping request (even after telling the software to remember the setting), Version 3 simply blocks the requests, requiring no special configuration changes.
Both editions offer multitier antivirus, antimalware and firewall protection bundled into a single, manageable solution. Users and administrators can get where they need to go faster by accessing everything from one user-friendly interface. Symantec’s consistency in user interface design provides for intuitive navigation that will be familiar to anyone who has used earlier versions of this suite.
Both editions of the product offer simple and direct rollout. Admins have the choice to deploy Protection Suite to all or a select group of systems.
Alternately, it is possible to create a standalone installer package that users can run manually from a self-extracting setup.exe file. Administrators also can request that the system console send an e-mail to users that will allow them to install the security software by clicking on a link within the message.
Most organizations probably will want to use the push-deployment method to avoid giving users administrative access to complete the installation. On most systems, even with an “install everything” rollout, setup takes only a few minutes from start to finish. Additionally, installation packages can be configured to install silently, requiring no prompting and no end-user interaction.
Symantec Protection Suite can be configured to keep administrators abreast of critical events, allowing them to respond instantly to system alarms.
The security console can be set to send e-mail alerts automatically when pre-defined conditions are met. This too is surprisingly customizable: Not only can the agent e-mail the administrator if an event occurs — if, say, a server health issue arises — but various thresholds can be prescribed as well, making for surgically accurate alert management.
Scheduled reporting can also be configured so that the managing server sends an e-mail update to administrators on a regular basis.
Instead of having to access the server to see what’s going on, administrators can effectively configure the server to e-mail them at the beginning of every workday to keep them in the know. This tool saves time while also preventing responsible parties from being blindsided by problems.
Centrally managed antimalware and firewall solutions are the only way to go if your help desk supports more than a handful of computers.
Although the Small Business Edition comes preconfigured, both versions of the software have adjustable policies and behaviors, giving administrators the tools they need to customize the level of security that best suits their user environments.
Because Symantec Protection Suite has relatively modest system requirements, organizations can roll out full-featured protection to even their oldest clients without needing to upgrade hardware. The software suite requires at minimum a Pentium processor, 256 megabytes of RAM and Microsoft Windows 2000. Both the Small Business and Enterprise editions will support anything newer than that, up to and including x64 processors and systems running Windows 7.
With everything under one roof, organizations can enjoy the added benefits of unified licensing and maintenance, eliminating the headaches common to supporting multiple third-party security products. Simplified compliance and consolidated administration create a win-win for administrators and asset managers alike.
Because Symantec Protection Suite supports only Microsoft Exchange servers, organizations with Lotus Domino or other mail systems will have to look elsewhere for messaging security. This will prove an unwelcome challenge for some businesses.
Also, the new version brings a bit of a learning curve. Although the Small Business Edition does a good job of best-guessing settings that will work for many organizations, some policy tweaking might be necessary, regardless of which edition you deploy.
Finally, some of the help files are a bit terse and would be more useful if the topics were cross-referenced with hyperlinks, as is common with many other programs.