Gartner: Whale Buy Will Make Microsoft a Player in the SSL VPN Market

22 May 2006

John Girard  Greg Young  

Microsoft’s acquisition of Whale Communications will shake up the developing market for Secure Sockets Layer, virtual private networks. But a single Microsoft SSL solution may not be available until 2H07.

Microsoft previously had a fragmented assortment of VPN access methods built into its Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) add-on and Exchange. Whale brings to this assortment a full-featured SSL VPN (one of the few designed on Windows, rather than Linux or Unix) with a good set of end-point security tools that were built largely in-house. As a result, Microsoft won’t have to sort through and renegotiate distribution and license agreements. In fact, Whale’s end-point security tools address a gaping hole in Microsoft’s on-demand security protection for all types of remote access. Whale also was noted for its work to optimize wide-area-network-access for high-value third-party applications and gateways — including, of course, Microsoft SharePoint. In addition, Whale provides application optimizers for Microsoft Exchange and Windows Terminal Server, as well as other third-party applications.

Gartner expects that the Whale product will be moved into the Microsoft Internet Security Acceleration (ISA) Server product, which will have a significant release with ISA Server 2006. The Whale technology will likely show up in this release or as a purchased add-on. Microsoft has been attempting to improve the narrow field of original equipment manufacturer (OEM) appliance offerings for ISA Server, an effort that also could provide a platform for any SSL VPN products.  

Gartner does not believe that the acquisition of Whale will be regarded as a monopolistic move by Microsoft because Whale has only a very small share of the small but growing SSL VPN market. However, Microsoft’s entry into the market does put a new burden on incumbents to show value for third-party products.

Although Gartner considers Whale to be a visionary player, we do not consider Microsoft to be one, and this acquisition has not changed our view of Microsoft. Many of Whale’s future potential directions into non-Windows platforms can be expected to be reprioritized to focus on Vista. We believe Microsoft will see this as an opportunity to also build a better VPN for Windows Mobile. This would help all SSL VPN vendors to grow in the mobile space by “legitimizing” SSL for small devices and will add another mortal challenge to the boutique vendors of mobile Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) VPNs

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