Antivirus software is one of the few exception-free applications IT consultants should ensure is installed, licensed, and updated on all clients’ Windows servers and workstations. The big question is: Which antivirus products should you install?

Cost is one concern

Cost is a predominant client concern. Despite the fundamental requirement for antivirus software, consultants frequently must convince business owners that investing in licenses and installation labor is an intelligent purchase. Consultants should help clients understand antivirus software’s value by reviewing the returns it provides. If no antivirus software or a less expensive but less effective antivirus solution is deployed, the resulting downtime and system repair costs following a malware infection will easily surpass those of deploying a solid antivirus product.

Some antivirus manufacturers are more aggressive in offering discounts to consultants. That means the consultant will generate more revenue selling that vendor’s software. In other cases, a consultant may find a competing brand proves more effective, but due to costs structures, the consultant will generate less revenue selling that product.

Still other antivirus vendors (such as CA) offer antivirus clients that can be installed on Windows servers. Others, such as AVG, state the client antivirus engine is incompatible on servers, thus forcing businesses to pay for more expensive server-based coverage when, in fact, all the business owner really desires is basic antivirus coverage on a file server.

One fact is certain: Free versions of popular antivirus programs, such as those from AVG, Avast, and Avira, should never be installed at commercial or nonprofit client sites. It is almost always a violation of the license agreement; free versions usually don’t update virus signatures as often (an important concern within business environments where multiple systems are heavily used each workday), and other critical features (such as AVG’s antirootkit functionality) are missing from the free, consumer-grade versions.

Functionality is really the key

Antivirus software margins ultimately shouldn’t matter. Consultants should recommend antivirus solutions to clients based on what will work best for the client. Frankly, that’s not always the same product.

Here’s an example: Client A is a service company that employs skip trace checkers. These employees are charged with tracking down customers who have reneged on payment and possibly fled town with unpaid goods. These skip trace checkers will travel to any possible Web site attempting to locate leads on these individual’s whereabouts. That means a lot of time spent on MySpace, Facebook, and similar sites. Further consider that the office consists of seven or eight Windows client workstations with no server or special firewall.

Client B is a medical practice with 55 staff using Windows client systems tightly locked down by server-based group policy restrictions. Further consider that the users’ Internet sessions are tightly monitored and protected using a perimeter-based Web filter.

The same antivirus solution may not be appropriate for both clients. In fact, client A likely needs the strongest antivirus product available, even if the product requires manual installation and configuration at each workstation. Client B would likely be better served by a centralized antivirus solution that can be automatically pushed to all workstations, even if the antivirus platform provides only basic coverage, as multiple other protective methods are in place.

In a nutshell

When recommending client antivirus software, there are numerous solutions available to consultants. Typically, I follow these steps:

  1. Ignore software margins.
  2. Consider client objectives.
  3. Factor existing infrastructure.
  4. Recommend a solution to best meet client needs.

I’m curious to hear what other IT consultants think. Do you share the same mindset, or do you follow different rules? Post your comments below.

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