AVG Anti-Virus Business Edition 2011
Strengths: Plenty of security features, good centralised management with group policies, improved installation and very good value
Weaknesses: Minimal reporting tools, annoying firewall component
Verdict: AVG offers a well-featured network protection package that is easy to manage and looks good value for smaller businesses
AVG has a strong following thanks to its popular free consumer anti-virus software. Its latest Anti-Virus Business Edition 2011 (AVBE) aims to take these credentials and deliver centrally managed protection for up to 200 workstations.
This latest version adds a lot of features. Unique to AVG is its social networking protection, which runs real-time checks on URL links exchanged between Facebook and MySpace users.
The LinkScanner workstation component has been improved, as its Surf and Shield features provide colour-coded ratings alongside search results to help users avoid dubious websites. Virus scanners have a reputation for sucking up resources, but AVG lets you set the CPU usage level.
If you want anti-spam measures for workstations and mail servers then go for the Internet Security Business Edition. This also includes AVG's identity protection, but other than that, the two products offer the same features.
The Admin Server comprises a number of components, with the DataCenter providing data storage for workstation configurations, scan settings and so on. A FireBird database is included as standard, but the DataCenter can use existing installations of SQL Server or Oracle.
We loaded the Admin Server on a Windows Server 2008 R2 (64-bit), and found the installation has been nicely streamlined so it can be completed in a few minutes using the default settings. The Admin Console has not changed much and is easy to use.
Considerable improvements have been made to the documentation. Earlier versions came with a whole heap of manuals for each component, but these have been amalgamated.
A wizard assists with the client software deployment and you can use it to scan a network subnet or specify individual IP addresses. However, we did find the scan process painfully slow - more than an hour to check one IP subnet.
One somewhat overdue feature is integration with Active Directory. The DataCenter has an import function; you provide LDAP credentials and it populates its database with machine names from an AD domain.
The console simplifies ongoing administration, letting you place protected systems in groups. Each has its own settings for scan schedules and other components, and any changes made are propagated to all members.
As new systems receive the client they are automatically placed in a default group so can be protected immediately. Furthermore, any clients that have problems, such as outdated signature files, are placed in a separate group so you can see non-compliant systems at a glance.
We introduced genuine viruses to our clients and the local scanner picked them up immediately, displayed a warning and blocked access. All detected threats are posted in a window with colour-coded icons, but we did find these are cleared out if you close and reload the console.
Email alerting is supported and for each group you can pick from a list of events. You can send alerts based on specific events, such as virus detections, along with details of the offending station.
Only eight report templates are provided, but AVG has added HTML-based graphical reporting. It offers a range of criteria to choose from, so you can schedule reports and raise them for areas such as the top threats, and customise them to include selected systems or groups.
Workstations get the busy-looking AVG client interface, but you can select components and stop users from changing them by using group policies. If selected from the deployment tool, Windows Vista and 7 users can also have a sidebar or gadget on their desktop for quick access to common functions.
We found the workstation firewall most annoying as it continually popped up warning messages at each test client about application activity and demanded an action from the user. In common with most SMBs, our lab has a good-quality perimeter firewall, so we disabled it from the shared firewall settings for the entire group.
Software and virus signature updates are controlled by the Admin Server and will be automatically pushed out to all workstations. Along with central control over each component, you can also use group policies to create mandatory system scans.
To counteract the virus scanner's use of CPU resources, you can set a priority using a slider bar. We tested this on a 2.6GHz AMD Phenom client - a maximum-priority scan used around five per cent CPU, occasionally peaking at ten per cent. If this is an issue, you can move the slider bar to the minimum priority.
This software has an impressive range of features and looks a good-value alternative to network perimeter security appliances.