SurfControl has joined the growing number of security software companies becoming hardware vendors in an effort to compete for sales.

The company has just announced its first ever hardware "appliance", the RiskFilter - basically a box for filtering email that incorporates content filtering technology previously sold as a standalone. The company will continue to sell its SurfControl software on its own.

The formula is familar. Use a hardened Linux kernel to keep costs down and throw as much conventional (non-ASIC) horsepower at it as possible to short-circuit the objection that software places more demands on hardware in an age when threat and nuisance levels are high.

Company CEO Steve Purdham hailed the new "out of the box, onto the rack" philosophy. "An appliance is only as good as the software that runs on it," he said. "We have put our years of focussed experience in content filtering software into developing SurfControl RiskFilter and backed it with our highly recognised global content team."

This move from code to rack is being driven by the furious commoditisation of perimeter security systems, and the trend for performance to be seen again as a deciding issue. The appliance model also makes it easy to ship the same hardware in every box while charging to "turn on" features as users choose to upgrade.

UK and Ireland manager Martino Corbelli said that putting the company's software in an all-in-one box would cut technical hassle for the customer. "When you buy enterprise software you have to find a box to put it on, and it will have to be integrated with an OS. [Not surprisingly] nine out of ten of our support calls have nothing to do with the software itself."

SurfControl planned to add web filtering capability to the next version of RiskFilter, complementing the email filtering already integrated, he said.

Three models will be sold when the product becomes available on 3 October in the UK: the E10, E20 and E30. The E10 is capable of handling from one to 500 users, the E20 handles up to 2,000 users and the E30 handles up to 5,000 users. Pricing will be £8,500, £18,000, and £36,000 respectively with annual subscription rates equal to 50 percent of the initial charge.