Learning from the education community

Years ago Geoffrey Moore was all the rage with his Crossing the Chasm concept for growing new businesses. Most security companies tend to take a horizontal approach looking to capitalize on the finance, service provider, and federal government markets that traditionally lead the way for security spend. A few companies are doing well in the education vertical, finding momentum with configuration control features specifically tuned into universities:

  • High percentage of shared public access PCs. Universities have computer labs and publicly assessable computers in classroom and residential buildings to ensure that students have access to computers when they have the need to complete homework assignments or conduct research. One challenge is how to automatically reset the PC to a compliant state for the next user.

  • Higher probability of actions that necessitate a software rebuild. Let's face it, students experiment with the machine configurations and sometimes push social behavior. That's how they learn. This can result in a university PC becoming trashed through incompetence or malicious intent. The challenge for IT is how to unobtrusively prevent serious destruction of the operating environment.

  • Transient user community. Students spend a lot of time off of the campus network when they go home on weekends or in between semesters. IT cannot easily control laptop configurations for a community that bounces around that much. This is why the education vertical is about the only compelling market for NAC vendors - IT needs a way to check student machines when they come back onto the network and have the students spend their time getting the machine back to a compliant state.

Leaping from a focus on education into other verticals to broaden the business base is not easy as the user profiles are quite different. Vendors getting traction in education may want to look for enterprise use cases of shared public devices (e.g. retail bank teller terminals, point of sale devices, hospital kiosks) that offer common technical requirements. Virtualization, with its ability to start with a fresh VM image and ability to be streamed to remote users, has the agility to potentially enable an easier cross-over to new markets.

Thanks to Faronics and their customer references for an interesting discussion on education.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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