Enterprises must not delay taking measures to control junk email, despite the daunting prospect that three-quarters of current anti-spam vendors will have disappeared by the end of this year, according to new research from Gartner.

Vendor consolidation will continue through the first quarter of next year, Gartner said in a report published last week. Out of roughly 40 vendors currently on the scene, fewer than 10 will remain by the end of 2004.

Despite the turbulence ahead, however, the spam problem is too acute for businesses to delay taking action. The company reckons 60 to 75 percent of all incoming email is spam, with junk email now commonly carrying malicious code.

"While many enterprise spam-filtering vendors will be gone, or will refocus their technologies elsewhere by the end of this year, enterprises can't afford to delay decisions until the market shakes out," said Gartner research director Maurene Caplan Grey in a statement. "Their problems with spam have become too enormous."

What's more, enterprises are likely to be compelled to buy into immature technology, Gartner warned. The best spam-blocking systems are currently offered by small start-ups with limited experience, while the products from more established anti-virus and Web filtering firms are not yet up to scratch, according to Gartner.

"If a solution blocks legitimate business email, or is too restrictive or inflexible for an enterprise culture, it's not viable," said research director Arabella Hallawell in a statement. "If the spam-filtering solution requires a team of administrators or heavy end-user involvement to administer and update, then it's not practical either."

Rather than wait for the dust to settle, the research firm recommends companies look for the best technology currently available and for shorter-term contracts. They should also require protection clauses in the event a vendor is acquired, Gartner said.

Gartner's research note, "Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Spam Filtering, 1Q04", is available from the company's website here, and costs $495. Gartner analysts will also address the issue at next week's Gartner Symposium/ITxpo at the San Diego Convention Center.