SMBs are finally being offered a way to buy desktop security that doesn't come on a CD. US vendor Webroot has formally launched a suite of security applications delivered as an online service.

The company has trailed its intention to sell security in a Software-as-a-service (SaaS) form for some weeks, but the company has released more detail to help SMB customers size up the concept.

The main service, Webroot Web Security SaaS, will be available in three versions; a Web filtering service offering URL and content security, a higher-level Threat Protection service specifically for anti-virus and anti-malware, and a Total Web Protection service that combines the two.

In addition, the company already markets its Webroot Email Security SaaS, which from this week comes with a range of new features, mainly improvements to content control in an out of the network to block 'content leakage.'

Using channel partners for sales in the UK and Asia, data centres will be located around the globe, including centres in London, Amsterdam and Stockholm to cover Europe, Sydney to cover Asia, and two US sites, California and Colorado.

"Since implementing Webroot Web Security SaaS in the summer of 2007, we have much better visibility, control and management of our Internet use," Neil Prevett of SMB legal firm Lester Aldridge LLP, was quoted as saying by Webroot.

"It's easy to set up, configure and use, making it a very valuable tool in the fight against Internet-based threats and the policing of policies. It is certainly the best Web security solution we have used to date," he said.

SMBs - particularly the smaller end of that market - are said to struggle with security, lacking either the expertise or the investment to keep up with its demands - or so the argument goes. In theory, buying it as a service means not having to worry about hardware or hardware upgrades, patching cycles, or tiresome desktop security management. Companies buy exactly the security filtering they need and spend any spare IT time poring over logs and reports of incidents and user activity.

It doesn't cover all bases, however. Users can still steal data from within the network, and it would be a brave company that abandoned all desktop software security in favour of an all-online approach. If a portion of the workforce use laptops, they will still need protection when unable to connect to Webroot's server proxies.

Pricing for the full Total Web Protection service starts at $5 (£2.56) per user, per month, not including volume discounts. Web Filtering alone is $2.50 per user, per month, and Threat Protection at $3.50 per user, per month. Non-US pricing was not available at press time.