The future of managed e-mail

Andrew Johnson, marketing director at MailGuard and Nick Hawkins, MessageLabs Asia-Pacific managing director -- the leaders of two popular managed e-mail services specialists -- go head to head. Nick Hawkins, Managing Director, MessageLabs Asia-PacificAbout MessageLabsMessageLabs is a leading provider of managed e-mail security services for businesses, protecting them against threats such as spam, viruses and other unwanted content.



Andrew Johnson, marketing director at MailGuard and Nick Hawkins, MessageLabs Asia-Pacific managing director -- the leaders of two popular managed e-mail services specialists -- go head to head.

Nick Hawkins, Managing Director, MessageLabs Asia-Pacific

Nick Hawkins, Managing Director, MessageLabs Asia-Pacific

About MessageLabs
MessageLabs is a leading provider of managed e-mail security services for businesses, protecting them against threats such as spam, viruses and other unwanted content. MessageLabs has has 350 employees in offices across eight countries worldwide.

Hawkins: What do you see as the future of e-mail messaging security, based on the issues that your customers face?

Johnson: Nick, it's funny (and probably quite appropriate) that this is your first question as this was the underpinning question that resulted in the founding of MailGuard.

MailGuard was born from an understanding of the issues, technology, and solutions involved in how very large corporations managed e-mail security challenges, and the observation that "this is just not going to work" for many of our smaller corporate clients.

However, having a clear vision of the issues that our smaller corporate clients faced in responding to IT concerns and threats, we were able to draw on our experience and apply our technology to design and implement an outsource business model. Today MailGuard provides effective e-mail security, reporting, and protection required without the crippling ongoing management and infrastructure requirements.

MailGuard continues to innovate by continuously engaging our clients for input and feedback, and also observing the success (and failure) of large corporations and early adopters when they are faced with many "bleeding edge" issues -- which often become issues for our clients six months to a year down the track.

As businesses adopt the use of more sophisticated electronic communications and various platforms (such as Instant Messaging and SMS) to improve their productivity, there will be an ongoing and increasing challenge to maintain security. Through our ongoing R&D efforts, MailGuard is confident it will be there to meet any new challenges facing our customers.

Johnson: How do you convince organisations, large and small, that antivirus, anti-spam protection starts outside their network when faced with the traditional model of server-based or appliance security solutions?

Hawkins: Our unique selling points -- 100 percent guarantee against infection from any e-mail virus, which no software or hardware solution can match; the ability to provide a level of protection against spam and viruses no individual company could afford in-house; and our global resources with local implementation -- often get us through the door to potential customers.

However, we work on a consultative basis with organisations to understand their particular situation and often find that some of the lesser-known benefits of MessageLabs' service really make the difference. Plus, we deliver through global partners like IBM, MCI, and Dimension Data, so our customers benefit from acquiring all their IT needs from a single vendor and often end up bundling solutions to give them a comprehensive package.

Hawkins: MailGuard is a successful Australian business. What is your strategy, if any, for expansion out of Australia?

Johnson: MailGuard still has many opportunities within Australia as we expand via our three offices (Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane). Additionally, our initiatives in working with Australian Business Limited (ABL) have revealed that there are many businesses in regional Australia eager to adopt a service such as ours.

Today, we are servicing customers in over 15 different countries -- the majority are affiliated to our Australian customers but a growing number are overseas-based organisations. Countries we service include South Africa, USA, Denmark, UK, Japan, New Zealand, India, and China.

Genuine opportunities are to be found in the Asia-Pacific region where we have some solid negotiations taking place in Hong Kong and Singapore.

We are currently implementing our International Channel Partner Program and are already achieving successful outcomes in NZ, UK, and Ireland as well as the outer Asia-Pacific regions. Fundamentally, our business model delivers to us and to our customers ongoing scalability with regard to user numbers. Location is not an issue with providing service to organisations.

Andrew Johnson, Marketing Director, MailGuard

Andrew Johnson, Marketing Director, MailGuard

About MailGuard
MailGuard is an Australian owned and operated company focused on providing protection against spam, viruses, and unwanted e-mail for business clients. MailGuard solutions require no management, and appeal to those clients who don't have the time or desire to do it all themselves.

Johnson: How does MessageLabs Australia cope with the challenge of implementing changes and enhancements initiated from clients and partners swiftly and flexibly?

Hawkins: We are constantly rolling out new services and enhancements to our infrastructure that have resulted from close relationships with our partners and customers. Our managed e-mail encryption service is one example where we developed a solution specifically to meet one customer's needs and subsequently plan to roll it out to the market as a new service. Another example of implementing an enhancement to meet a market need is our spam quarantine. This allows e-mail we classify as spam to be stored off a client's network and allows the individual users, if desired, to manage their spam via a Web console.

Hawkins: As an Australian company, how do you go about meeting service expectations from large global businesses?

Johnson: MailGuard still has many opportunities within Australia as we expand via our three offices (Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane). Additionally, our initiatives in working with Australian Business Limited (ABL) have revealed that there are many businesses in regional Australia eager to adopt a service such as ours.

Interestingly, the service expectations of our clients tend to relate directly to how critical e-mail is to their business -- rather than the organisation's size or global presence. For example, many of our shipping and freight-forwarding customers, who may only have a handful of staff, stand to lose between AU$70K and AU$100K for every hour that a ships sits waiting to be loaded, whilst waiting for an e-mail to arrive.

Many of our clients opt for the MailGuard solution, as they can't afford to have the single point of failure of an internal server. We need to offer 24x7 support for a growing number of customers due to the service being implemented globally -- eg, Quicksilver MailGuard users are located in Australia and the USA, Multiplex has users in Australia and the UK, while Bakers Delight has Australian and Canadian users protected by MailGuard.

Our first- and second-level help desk operates from our Brisbane offices, with additional second- and third-level support available from Sydney and Melbourne. Support outside Australian business hours is currently managed by MailGuard staff in Europe, with second level on call in Australia.

Johnson: What would you say is the differentiator that MessageLabs takes to the market?

Hawkins: Our unique (patented and patent pending) heuristic e-mail threat detection technology, plus the company's global infrastructure which delivers worldwide protection mechanisms to organisations in Australia and elsewhere.

Hawkins: If you had to define what sets MailGuard apart from other managed e-mail security service providers, what would it be?

Johnson: MailGuard has been developed locally from the ground up. I would say that our key differentiator is quality customer service, teamed with the ability to continually enhance our service offering based on customer feedback. Our technology allows us to adapt our systems to meet and extend on the current and future needs of our clients and partners.

MailGuard today is the result of the input and feedback from our customers and partners. We exist because they have a need, and we as a team have the same focused vision, passion, and drive to provide the best available technology and service to match their needs.

Johnson: Why is MessageLabs still in the old mindset of having fixed-term (six- and 12-month) contracts and pay-up-front commitment?

Hawkins: We do not have a pay-up-front commitment, we provide our customers with options that suit their requirements. In line with service agreements, and in order to enable customers to minimise their administrative overheads, we have opted for a minimum 12-month agreement, with opt-out clauses.

Hawkins: The e-mail landscape has changed from filtering to compliance. What is MailGuard doing with its product roadmap to keep with the compliance challenges faced by customers?

Johnson: We see that our customers have ongoing needs in both of these areas. Filtering challenges will only increase, while other challenges such as compliance requirements add to daily business pressures. Filtering provides the ability to stop unwanted e-mails and viruses out at the Internet, before they are sent to our clients' networks. Filtering in terms of e-mail, and Web browsing [WebGuard], combined with e-mail archiving and data life cycle management [SafeGuard] are the base tools that many of our clients are using to meet regulatory compliance and reporting requirements.

MailGuard has also worked under the guidance of the Australian Retailers Association and the Privacy Commissions Office to provide tools for businesses to manage their compliance with the e-mail requirements for the amendments to the Australian Privacy Act 2000 (introduced in December 2001).

Johnson: Customer configuration changes in the MessageLabs service take up to 24 hours to propagate and take effect, which can prevent customers from responding to emerging threats quickly. What is the reason for such long latencies, and how do you address this problem?

Hawkins: This is incorrect. We have four automated change rollouts in each 24-hour window, with the ability to make custom adjustments to individual pieces of our infrastructure as needed. This configuration management schedule is not part of the company's threat management process, which is handled by two 24x7 teams (GTS, Global Tech Support and NOC, Network Operations Centre) in New York and the UK. MessageLabs' clients e-mail security is managed primarily by the 24x7 team in the UK.

Hawkins: What is MailGuard's most successful sector and why?

Johnson: Typically, we can define our customers into two categories: (1) dynamic small organisations focused on delivering their core business by outsourcing their e-mail security; and (2) focused, busy (and usually small) IT teams in larger organisations that have realised they can be more efficient and effective with their time than spending hours daily managing spam, virus, and e-mail security issues.

Both of these customer groups share the same desire to partner with an expert organisation that provides a solid business-grade solution to their e-mail security needs, that requires no maintenance but at the same time is flexible and cost-effective.

Johnson: Your Web site shows only one office in Sydney. Do you have plans to develop offices in other states of Australia?

Hawkins: We have direct sales people in Queensland (Brisbane) and Victoria (Melbourne), but MessageLabs' main route to market is via our strategic partners who have extensive regional coverage. Both Global Alliance partners and local partners contribute significant business to MessageLabs Australasia. We use smaller local Australian partners to address specific market segments in all states and territories.

Hawkins: What is your view on the window of vulnerability and organisations that rely solely on signature-based e-mail security systems?

Johnson: Nick, I honestly believe that in a fast-break virus scenario -- many of which we have both seen over the years -- any business utilising a managed/hosted solution such as MessageLabs or MailGuard is going to be in a stronger position than one that is reliant on the haphazard updates of a single vendor desktop or gateway solution.

"The fact that we both statistically analyse millions of e-mails every day is difficult to match with a piece of software that someone might accidentally turn off!"

Andrew Johnson, Marketing Director, MailGuard
The window of vulnerability where a virus may enter an organisation undetected by many conventional desktop/gateway/appliance solutions is caused due to the fact that many of these products, individually, simply don't have the access to the levels of updates, technology, and filtering that we do as organisations cumulatively representing hundreds of thousands of end users.

The use of sophisticated heuristics (Skeptic and Guardian), multiple antivirus engines -- with direct liaison with AV data centres, along with the fact that we both statistically analyse millions of e-mails every day is difficult to match with a piece of software that someone might accidentally turn off!

Having said this, it is still important for organisations to continue to operate desktop antivirus solutions. Although our services provide a first-line defence -- it is still possible for someone to walk in with an infected CD, USB memory key, or laptop and deliver a viral payload to an unprotected network.

Johnson: Symantec has recently launched its "Hosted Mail Security Solution" to filter spam and virus threats from e-mail traffic. Do you see such global competitors making solid inroads into the Australian market? And how does the MessageLabs service compete?

Hawkins: Symantec is already the dominant player in e-mail threat solutions, primarily with desktop and gateway offerings. Its move into the managed services market is good for the industry as it validates the model. As a direct competitor it has some work to do as, according to our latest information, its infrastructure is located only in North America. Global and enterprise clients value a true distributed infrastructure to give effective protection against worldwide threats. Only MessageLabs delivers this on a global scale today.

Hawkins: In your recent move from Melbourne to Sydney, does that mean League now takes precedence over AFL?

Johnson: I think I was lucky, in that when the Australian Football League (AFL) and the majority of the AFL teams implemented the MailGuard service, their IT partners tended to take care of many of the League teams too. So now I don't have to choose! I suppose this means we should start talking with the Union teams to support our Brisbane office!

Johnson: MessageLabs currently filters e-mail traffic for the BMW Williams and Red Bull Formula 1 teams. Have you driven the FW27 yet, and how does it compare to the RB1 -- and if you haven't driven them yet, why not?

Hawkins: My colleagues have driven such cars, but they're a little slow, jet fighters are more my thing!

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
Click here for subscription information.