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Virtual appliances: What goes up can also come down

Let’s face it: Spam filters are usually asked to do more, not less. But when McColo’s ISPs shut off its Internet service last month, sending global spam volumes plummeting, a lot of spam filtering applications found themselves, well, twiddling their proverbial thumbs.

That’s just one more reason that spam filtering company SpamTitan can breathe a sigh of relief because it packages its app as a virtual appliance. As volumes of spam go up or down, “you simply add or remove processing power or memory resources, effectively getting a bigger or smaller appliance without having to go back to the vendor,” said Ronan Kavanagh, SpamTitan’s CEO. The process is largely manual, but it’s still more efficient than the alternative.

As an independent software vendor, SpamTitan sees enormous benefits to packaging its software as a virtual appliance rather than as a hardware appliance or as a standalone application, Kavanagh said. “We don’t have to support any hardware. The entire sales cycle can happen online. We can send out evaluation units at no cost to us. The customer can take charge of their evaluation on their own time.” This list goes on.

But Kavanagh said that SpamTitan hasn’t experienced as much adoption of the virtual appliance version of its software as it might have liked. In 2006, it launched its first virtual appliance package on VMware’s Virtual Appliance Marketplace, and today about 50% of the units it sells ship as virtual appliances. The remainder ship as full ISO images, or bootable CDs.

Part of that may have to do with customer size, Kavanagh said. “Some people don’t use VMware, particularly in [small and medium-sized enterprises]. If they have less than 100 users, they tend to have very limited VMware deployments and are just as happy to use the ISO.”

Spam volumes, on the other hand, are very much on the upswing. “Yeah, they’re on their way up again,” Kavanagh said. Oh, well. It was a nice while it lasted.

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