eWeek is reporting that Avinti is being acquired by Marshal8e6 this week. There has not been a lot of news in this sector of late, but this one is a little different, so what exactly do we have here? A web security appliance vendor merged with an email security software vendor, buying another vendor who leverages virtual environments to isolate code behavior. Marshal8e6 is the recent merger of the Mail Marshal email security guys with 8e6, the web security firm. Avinti provides a sort of application Habitrail to monitor code in its natural habitat, watch how it works and (since I am already running with this analogy) spot the evil hamster at play. From Avinti CEO William Kilmer:

“Essentially we have a network-based device that would run a series of virtual images that can actually mimic the user’s desktop environment,” Kilmer said in an interview with eWEEK. “We’ll open it up, actually run it, and look for process or look for different signals that would indicate that it’s a virus.”

While this is an odd mixture of technologies, the trifecta makes sense for them. Most vendors offer a combined email security and web security offering, and customers expect as much. But with signature based detection of spam and malicious code nearing the end of its useful lifespan, alternative methods of detection are needed and being used. I think in the short term Avinti’s behavior based inspection provides Marshal8e6 a very minor competitive advantage amongst some of their mid-tier competitors, but in the long run the Avinti approach is what is more interesting- providing a flexible ‘playground’ to test or deploy multiple inspection techniques, and I imagine allow the customer to cascade multiple methods at once. It also allows them to scale services on the back end on an as-needed basis with cloud or virtual computing, so if the customer wants to run appliances (software or virtual) they will have the option. Marshal8e6 of course faces the challenge of implementing a unified system and policy management interface for the combined product; all three products needed a refresh regardless, but this will be critical for both keeping existing customers happy and also making the product easy to use.

Smaller email/web security firms are in a very tough position given competition from the top vendors, but if they can provide enough breadth of functionality to meet expectations while continuing to innovate, they have a good chance to survive this market.