The basic building block of today’s network security is the firewall but two market analyses from research company IDC offer compelling evidence that this is about to change.

According to IDC’s quarterly European Security Server Appliance Tracker for Q2 of this year, a new category of "unified threat management” (UTM) appliances - as IDC has dubbed them - is growing rapidly in popularity.

From April to June, UTM devices constituted 11 percent of factory units shipped in Europe, up from virtually nothing the year before. Firewall/VPN device shipments, by contrast, fell to 75 percent market share from 86 percent against the backdrop of European security appliance year-on-year growth of 70 percent.

Meanwhile, in a separate IDC report, ‘Worldwide Threat Management Security Appliances Forecast 2004-2008, author Charles Kolodgy predicts that UTM appliances will overtake conventional firewall/VPN devices in the near future. "By 2007, 80 percent of all security solutions will be delivered via a dedicated appliance,” the report says.

UTM appliances combine firewalling, anti-virus and intrusion detection and prevention in a single system as a way of overcoming installation, management and performance headaches that have characterised some of today’s ad-hoc systems.

Although firewall/VPN devices are predicted to continue to grow in absolute terms, the European figures are an indication that security technology has reached an important moment of change. Instead of buying security systems from multiple vendors, companies may in future build network security around a single "all-in-one" platform.

"Appliances that offer multiple security applications incorporated on a single platform are proving increasingly popular and will continue to be so," said Oliver Harcourt, research analyst for IDC's European Enterprise Server research team. "These appliances present users with a cost-effective and simple way of implementing and managing a range of key security technologies," he said.

The Kolodgy forecast identified leading vendors in the UTM segment as FortiNet (29.5 percent revenue share) Symantec (22.9 percent), Secure Computing (21.7 percent), ServGate (9.5 percent) and NetScreen/Juniper (5.0 percent).

Many of these systems are at the beginning of their development so it’s hard to judge their technical prowess compared to conventional devices but FortiNet has just announced one of most advanced to date in the form of its high-end FortiGate-5000.