Microsoft is spending considerable time this week talking up Forefront "Stirling," a suite of integrated security products for desktop, server and network management. Although Stirling won't arrive until the first half of 2009, I wonder if it will evolve to become a managed security service platform. 

Microsoft has been keeping a close eye on the managed service provider market, and in mid-March 2008 announced an extended partnership with N-able.

At the same time, traditional security companies such as Symantec and Trend Micro have been pushing deeper into the managed security service market. At some point, MSPmentor believes, Microsoft will need to respond by partnering more publicly or launching a managed security service of its own.

That's where Microsoft Forefront Stirling may enter the picture. The security product suite, slated to ship in the first half of 2009, includes:
  • A central management console for security configuration and enterprise-wide visibility;
  • Forefront Client Security;
  • Forefront Security for Exchange Server;
  • Forefront Security for SharePoint; and
  • the next generation of Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration Server (ISA Server), to be known as Forefront Threat Management Gateway.
Several security-centric technology companies have successfully built partner programs that involve managed service providers. True believers include Untangle, which makes a secure network gateway built on open source.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is trying to get its arms more fully around SaaS and managed services. The Microsoft Online Services effort, announced in early March 2008, includes hosted versions of Exchange, Dynamics and SharePoint.

Now, imagine if Microsoft extended that SaaS effort to include Forefront Stirling security solutions.

Is that possible? Or far-fetched? I already have my opinion but feel free to weigh in with yours.