When it comes to putting applications in the cloud, security is a prime candidate. Primarily because a hosted deployment addresses most, if not all, of the setup and management headaches involved in using on-premise software while still delivering the same protection against viruses, spam and other threats. It can also work out cheaper and deliver other benefits as well.

Here’s how it works—instead of having to host and maintain complex security software to filter out threats locally, users connect via the Internet to servers managed by a security service vendor. With some products this can be done without the need for extra software at the client end, but with most a local agent of some kind will be required. Either way everything can be managed remotely, either by the customer themselves, the service provider or a reseller, with updates, similarly, distributed and applied remotely.

Another benefit of hosted security is the ability to protect mobile and home workers as well as office-bound PCs, without the need for a VPN. All that’s needed is an Internet connection, with the majority of threats filtered out and dealt with before they even reach the protected PC.

What is it and who is it for?

Trend Micro has had a hosted security service in its small business Worry-Free portfolio for a couple of years now, aimed typically at companies with 5-100 users, although that limit isn’t set in stone.

Originally called Business Security Hosted, the latest v3.0 release sees the name changed to Worry-Free Business Security Services (WFBS-Services) and the feature set updated to bring it in line with on-premise Worry-free products. As such, WFBS-Services can protect Windows-based file servers, desktops, and laptops from viruses, phishing, spyware, and other common Internet threats. It can also filter out spam, although only, where users pull down mail using POP3, plus it’s possible to protect against threats transmitted via portable USB devices and Wi-Fi networks.

Just like the on-premise products, WFBS-Services clients, by default, employ Trend’s latest Smart Scan technology. That’s where signatures are employed to detect known threats, such as trojans and spyware (around 80%), while rapidly mutating threats (roughly 20%), are handled using heuristics. Only the heuristic scanning is done locally on the client PC, while signature scanning is handled via the Web service, minimising the impact on local processing and making it a lot easier to keep the product up to date.

One small limitation is a lack of URL filtering, included as standard in the on-premise products. However, it is possible to block access to potentially harmful sites using Trend Micro’s hosted Web Reputation service at no extra cost.

Pricing & setup

Licences for WFBS-Services are sold on a sliding scale depending on the number of users involved. For 2-5 the price is £33.91 (ex. VAT) per user/year, falling in increments to £16.09 per user/year for 251 or more. Licences need to be renewed annually with two and three year deals available from resellers.

There’s no server software to configure, however, a small client security agent (CSA) does need to be installed on every server and desktop to be protected. Available for all supported Windows desktop and server versions, this can be deployed in a variety of ways. Users can be e-mailed, for example, then download and install it themselves, or it can be centrally pushed out and installed remotely.

Users can also be given rights to manage their own CSA if wanted, but most customers will opt to disable local control and manage settings centrally from the Web based management console. Alternatively, management can be fully out-sourced to a reseller with Trend partners encouraged to manage multiple WFBS-Services sites by integration with a product called Worry-Free Remote Manager.

Does it do it well?

Client deployment is the only real hurdle to overcome before starting to use WFBS-Services. Fortunately it’s pretty easy and we only encountered one problem—with a PC that wouldn’t let us install the Worry-Free CSA remote, which we resolved by downloading a conventional MSI implementation and installing the agent manually.

Once deployed the agents start working straight away, using default settings likely to suit the majority of small business customers. Moreover, despite being hosted the management interface proved responsive and very easy to use, with useful facilities to discover and group clients together for more flexible management on larger networks. We also found it very easy to lock down the client via the Web console and customise the various options to provide the level of protection we wanted and handle the odd exception.

Basic reporting facilities are also built-in and, overall, the Trend service performed well on our tests. Indeed, once we were happy it was doing what we wanted we more or less left it alone to get on with it.

Where does it disappoint?

One consideration with WFBS-Services is that, although implemented as a hosted service, it’s Windows only, which means making separate arrangements to protect any Apple Mac or Linux systems. Likewise you’ll need something else to screen out malware entering via in-house Exchange and SMTP mail servers. The lack of custom URL filtering could also put some customers off.

Another small issue was the impact updating had on client performance. Most are unaffected with just one PC elected to download updates from the Trend server then distribute those updates to others on the protected network. Unfortunately update retrieval can really slow down that client and, although, this so-called ‘active’ PC changes from time to time there’s no option to dedicate a desktop or server to the task. Other than that, the product worked almost un-noticeably, successfully blocking and/or quarantining the various threats we fired at it.

Would we recommend it?

Compared to a traditional on-premise security solution, Trend Micro’s WFBS-Services stands up well. The level of protection is about the same as for other small business offerings, but there’s no need for an in-house server and none of the hassle normally associated with getting the product up and running. Pricewise it’s competitive too, but it may not be for everyone.

The sweet spot looks like it would be smaller companies with, say, up to 50 users, where technical expertise is in short supply, making it hard to deploy a standard on-site solution. Larger companies may also be interested but the few shortcomings may put them off, particularly in the email department. System integrators and resellers are also likely to find WFBS-Services a useful tool, and an easy sell into smaller companies.