Tools Of The Trade: Sophos Small Business Suite security software

By the same token, it is quite difficult to assess the effectiveness of anti-virus and anti-spam software. Most companies do not have the resources to carry out their own tests, so they have to take the vendor's assurances at face value.

But, just as a home is not secure if the occupants fail to lock the doors, computers are vulnerable if users ignore security measures. To be effective, security has to be easy to install and update, and affordable, as well as technically competent.

Oxfordshire-based security software company Sophos has built an international reputation for its products, in large part by keeping them simple. They are also cost effective, especially for small networks.

The Sophos Small Business Suite supports five workstations and a server, and provides anti-virus protection as well as spam blocking for commonplace mail servers, notably Microsoft's Exchange. This works out at £42 per user, including support for the first year. An anti-virus package, without the spam filters, works out at a shade under £30 a user. By most measures, that is a reasonable price to pay for peace of mind.

Companies can install the Small Business Suite centrally on a server, and administer anti-virus updates from there, or allow users to download the software and updates directly from the internet. The package comes complete with software for Windows and Macintosh platforms, and setting up Sophos is both straightforward and quick.

The Puremessage email scanning application, however, relies on a company using a central mail server. For a suite designed for businesses with as few as five users, this assumption might be wrong: many smaller companies rely on their internet service to filter mail, or have no filtering at all.

Competing security companies, such as Symantec, offer spam filtering on the desktop; Sophos does not. The central control and administration features also require a Windows-based server: despite the fact that Sophos markets the Small Business Suite at Mac and PC users, there is no specific support for Macintosh servers and no email filtering for Mac-only environments. Nor is there any support for Linux computers.

For companies that do not run an Exchange or Microsoft Windows server, it is hard to justify the extra cost of the Small Business Suite over the five- or 10-user version of Sophos's anti-virus application. But for companies that do run their own email infrastructure, the suite is an attractive option. The cheaper Small Business Anti-Virus Edition is keenly priced for those that do not.

THE VERDICT

Rating: 4 out of 5

Pros: easy to set up, low cost, good reputation for security

Cons: anti-spam features are Windows only

Price: £210 plus VAT for the Small Business Suite (five users); £130 plus VAT for antivirus (five users).

Contact: www.sophos.com

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