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Managed email filtering market hots up

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Quocirca's changing channels There is a corner of the IT world that is about to get interesting as vendors look to grow revenues in a tightening market. Mid-sized companies are set to be the main battle ground and resellers the vendors' principle weapons. Welcome to the world of managed email filtering.

A few years ago when spam and the malware it can harbour was a minor problem the main efforts around email filtering were focussed on what left the business rather than what entered it. The spam problem proliferated fast and IT managers had to respond quickly. They either used an updated version of their exiting product for filtering outgoing email or purchased a new, more specialist solution. This could either be another software package, a specialist bit of hardware (appliance) or a managed email filtering service.

At first there was plenty of market-share for everyone. The suppliers of the software and appliances quickly followed the pattern of other IT vendors, securing their home market and then going global. But the market for managed email filtering developed differently.

In Europe MessageLabs, a spin off from Star, a UK internet service provider (ISP), quickly dominated the market, although today there are alternatives from a few smaller UK based vendors (the best known is BlackSpider, but smaller niche vendors exist like INSL/SpheriQ and Email Systems). The US was soon dominated by two of their own home grown vendors Postini and Frontbridge.

As the world's ever growing use of email has now been saved from doom by the efforts of the spam filtering vendors and most businesses have a solution in place, either directly or indirectly via an ISP or other outside service provider, all the email filtering vendors have been trying work out how to keep growing.

There are three main options open to them: 1 - Second generation decisions (businesses replacing what their current solution with something better). 2 - Expanding their range of services beyond email filtering. 3 - Move into new geographic territories. For the vendors of managed email filtering services, it is the last of these that seems the best bet and this is heating up the market.

For the UK based vendors MessageLabs and BlackSpider, continental Europe is an obvious place to turn because over the channel the market for managed email filtering is immature, indeed some say it will never fly because of local privacy laws, but the vendors reckon they can work around these. MessageLabs has also been offering their service in the US for some time, but it is hard chipping away at two large incumbents.

The real excitement is going to remain in Europe which Frontbridge and Postini see as ripe for picking. A year or so ago Frontbridge pitched in but has made slow progress. In the last few months, Postini has also crossed the Atlantic, setting up infrastructure and recruiting resellers – and it is this later activity that is going to be the key to its success.

Managed email filtering services are at their most attractive in the huge mid-market, best addressed via resellers. Postini's recruitment drive has already attracted some impressive VARs, some ditching Frontbridge, disillusioned with its initial efforts in Europe. MessageLabs is not sitting back; in the past it has paid lip-service to resellers, in the UK at least, but it now says it is changing and anyway, in the drive for global presence, MessageLabs has another trick up its sleeve – IBM.

IBM is trying to increase its own presence in the mid-market and to this end it is offering a range of managed services via its Global Services division. IBM is re-badging the MessageLabs service and selling it directly and via its own resellers to the global mid-market. IBM also resells the Frontbridge service, but this is aimed at larger businesses, an area Frontbridge sees as one of its core strengths.

How ever it plays out over the next 12 months, no market is going to support three large and a number of smaller vendors long term, especially when their service is just one of a number of ways to do the job. The decisions that resellers make when selecting vendors to work with will be the main driver of success for the winners in this battle.

Bob Tarzey is a service director at Quocirca focussed on the route to market for IT products and services in Europe. Quocirca (www.quocirca.com) is a UK based research and analysis firm with a focus on the European and global markets for IT.

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