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Microsoft ISA 2006 can give you security premium

Nick Langley

What is it?

Microsoft's Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server bundles functions that people generally look to third-party specialists for.

Given the publicity surrounding the security flaws in Microsoft products, you might wonder why anyone would choose ISA over a product from a specialist supplier of firewalls and secure branch office gateways. It is not even cheaper than the competition.

But ISA - particularly ISA 2006, released this September - has been generally well reviewed by IT security analysts, and has an impressive list of users.

It also enables users to improve performance by managing their bandwidth - again, not delivering anything revolutionary, but providing a convenient package for user organisations that make Microsoft their first stop.

From the skills point of view, it enables Microsoft professionals to add the word "security" to their portfolio, which can be worth a premium of about £5,000 when added to mainstream Microsoft server skills.

Where did it originate?

Microsoft released its Proxy Server in the mid-1990s, with NT 4.0. Functionality from this was included in ISA 2000. The current version (pending general adoption of ISA 2006) is ISA 2004.

What's it for?

Microsoft calls ISA "an integrated edge security gateway that helps protect your IT environment from internet-based threats while providing your users with fast and secure remote access to applications and data".

It is used, for example, in secure application publishing, so that Exchange, Sharepoint and other web application servers can be accessed securely by remote users outside the corporate network. It includes automated publishing tools.

ISA functions as a virtual private network, providing secure internet access for branch offices, and as a firewall, authenticating legitimate traffic and blocking "harmful content" in both directions.

What makes it special?

Improvements in ISA 2006 bring it closer to its competitors. Secure application publishing has been made easier in ISA 2006, and bandwidth management has been improved. HTTP content can be compressed, and certain traffic given priority via the Differentiated Services protocol.

Firewall logging is done in real-time, drawing attention to traffic that has been blocked and what rule it has been blocked under. Flood control identifies and blocks addresses generating excessive traffic.

How difficult is it to master?

Much more has been automated or preconfigured in the latest version, making deployment easier. Those with a background in Windows 2003 and networking can attend a five-day course, which is a step on the way to MCSE security accreditation.

Where is it used?

Microsoft's list of ISA clients includes hospitals and local authorities, engineering companies and manufacturers, airlines, Lloyd's Register, the Northern Ireland e-Government Unit, the British Olympic Association and Center Parcs.

What systems does it run on?

Windows 2003

Rates of pay

About 335,000 for systems and network administrators with ISA; more for consultants and network architects.

Training

Microsoft and its partners offer training at about £1,000 for five days.

Curt Simmons' book Microsoft ISA Configuratio and Administration provides a step-by-step guide to deployment and management for less than £40.

You can download a trial version of ISA Server or visit the ISA "virtual lab" where you can play on the ISA homepage.

www.microsoft.com/isaserver/prodinfo/trial-software.mspx

www.microsoft.com/isaserver/default.mspx




training

Microsoft and its partners offer training at about £1,000 for five days.

Curt Simmons' book Microsoft ISA Configuration and Administration provides a step-by-step guide to deployment and management for less than £40.

You can download a trial version of ISA Server or visit the ISA "virtual lab" where you can play on the ISA homepage.

➔ www.microsoft.com/isaserver/

prodinfo/trial-software.mspx

➔ www.microsoft.com/isaserver/

default.mspx

rates of pay

About £35,000 for systems and network administrators with ISA more for consultants and network architects.


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