Managed vs. Unmanaged Antivirus

managed vs unmanaged antivirus

“Security is an afterthought, no one ever thinks about it until after the fact.” - Dr. Eric Cole

Who is Eric Cole and why should we worry about what he says about security? Well, he is just about the most credentialed person on the planet when it comes to cyber-security, working as a cyber-security commissioner under President Obama as well as the network security advisor to Bill Gates. In short, this man knows what he is talking about when it comes to the fight against hackers.

So, why is the warning on security an afterthought? What does he mean? Unfortunately, many companies think about security only after it has been breached. In a way, effective cyber-security is like the lifeboats on a cruise ship; nobody notices them until they’re needed. And, ill-advisedly, there are many organizations that don’t have those security “lifeboats” or know how to use them effectively. Those organizations, quite often small or medium-sized businesses, are vulnerable to cyber-attacks

If your business falls into the category of 38% of small businesses that don’t regularly update their security software solutions, or is a SMB worried about the growing rise in cyber-attacks, then there are basically two avenues to explore: managed antivirus and non-managed antivirus solutions. Below we explore the differences between the two solutions and show how they can fit your business.

What is Managed Antivirus?

Managed antivirus, sometimes referred to as centrally managed antivirus, is a software option that is designed to protect your business systems from viruses and other threats. It is referred to as central because the protection it offers comes from a single source, i.e. a network server. So, instead of each individual device having separate antivirus software installed, everything flows through a single network server. Centrally managed antivirus is likely to be administered by an I.T. partner, an organization hired to implement and oversee the protection of your business. In that sense, you are outsourcing the security of your business systems to third party security providers. Can that be cost-effective? That will depend on the size of your organization and the way it functions.

For small businesses, those with only a handful of employees and no server, managed antivirus protection does not make sense from a financial perspective. For medium businesses, some cost-benefit analysis might need to be carried out to determine the feasibility from an economic standpoint. Centrally-managed antivirus usually works on a per-seat-basis, i.e. a subscription is paid for each workstation in your organization. In addition, effective managed antivirus solutions often require a security engineer on site to ensure the system runs smoothly. That can clearly incur substantial costs for your business, as well as the logistical issues of having someone else in the office overseeing the security.

What is Non-Managed Antivirus?

Non-managed, or unmanaged, antivirus is a decentralized software program that protects computers and mobile devices from certain threats. It’s the traditional method of protecting business PCs and mobile devices, using antivirus software such as those offered by ZoneAlarm. Instead of the protection coming from a single source – the network server – non-managed antivirus offers individual endpoint protection. In short, each device in your organization has separate antivirus software installed. Of course, with non-managed antivirus solutions, there is no need to outsource anything to third parties.

Non-managed antivirus solutions clearly don’t have the same issues with overhead as managed solutions. There isn’t any need to outsource the security of your organization, because you can install multi-layered security on each endpoint with ease. Indeed, the best antivirus solutions offer good support for enterprise as part of the package, so you won’t need to place an I.T professional within your organization. The UI is very user-friendly and the system itself is easy to use, even for someone with basic computer skills. Furthermore, the software is generally fast and easy to install and run, saving you unnecessary frustration by being less time-consuming to operate.

Managed Antivirus Drawbacks

It should surely be understood that your enterprise needs protection against hacking and viruses. Depending on the nature of your business and, of course, the size of your organization, you may have considered choosing managed antivirus solutions. There are, however, some disadvantages to managed antivirus software solutions. These are discussed below:

A Single Point of Failure

You don’t need to be an I.T. expert to acknowledge that having an organization’s security managed from a central source, i.e. the network server, means that it could be catastrophic if that central source is compromised. The assaulted server represents a single point of failure that could lead to the vulnerability of your entire business network. The National Cyber Security Alliance estimates that 60% of SMBs go out of business within six months of being hacked, so you can appreciate how crucial it is to get the security right. With non-managed antivirus protection, there isn’t a single point of failure because you are protecting every endpoint.

A Focus on Network Computers and Lack of Mobile Support

Many years ago, employees carried out their tasks on the PCs at their desks. Business is changing, and an office no longer consists of rows of desks with computers connected to the network server. Today, employees work on a range of devices and not just on a workstation connected to the central network. Managed antivirus can fail when not every endpoint is connected to the server, and it is perhaps not possible, or financially feasible, to acquire a license for every device used by your employees. Mobile devices might not meet the requirements of corporate policy and there might not be sufficient endpoint integration to be part of the centrally managed network.

A centrally-managed antivirus solution might be optimized for Mac or for Windows computers in your office, but that is not always reflective of work in a modern enterprise. Your employees will carry out tasks at home, in coffee shops, on the commute, and on a wide variety of devices. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is a term reflecting the current state of affairs in the workplace whereby employees use their personal mobile devices to do their job. Unfortunately, their devices may contain business-related sensitive data and may not be protected, putting your business at risk. Remember that your business can be compromised by anything that has access to your computers’ ports, business routers, Wi-Fi, and so on. You will have to determine whether it is possible to protect all these devices through a centrally-managed solution, or whether it makes more sense to use trusted non-managed antivirus software solutions, such as ZoneAlarm.

Scheduled Updates vs Real Time Updates

Timing is an important factor in the debate between managed and non-managed antivirus solutions. For your business to run smoothly, you will want at least some level of control of when updates are applied. However, this is not always possible with managed antivirus, which might force an update or a cumbersome deep scan on your business network at irregular or inconvenient times. Non-managed antivirus software does not have that issue, and you will have the flexibility to perform a manual update as required. In I.T. security, there is also the debate of push vs pull. Centrally-managed antivirus updates are often carried on a “pull” basis, basically meaning that each endpoint connected to the network server will have a scheduled time to check in for new updates and pull them in, rather than the new updates being pushed upon the endpoints by the network server. You can appreciate, therefore, that there may be a window of opportunity for viruses when connected devices do not have the necessary updates.

The Need for Specialist Personnel

As discussed earlier, a centrally managed antivirus solution, even if based in the cloud, fundamentally needs an Information Security expert to oversee it. That can create several issues, including adding to the cost of running your organization. Yet, this service also detracts from how simple it is to use a trusted antivirus software product. With a solution like ZoneAlarm, it is not necessary to have personnel with knowledge of servers, networks, and security on site to secure your systems.

Indeed, the degree of flexibility a non-managed option brings should also be discussed. With a managed antivirus solution, there is often a uniform security policy across your business network. With non-managed antivirus software, it is easy to tailor each endpoint device to your needs. You can add exceptions on a specific device, which means you can whitelist certain sites, and blacklist other sites with simple exclusion tools. If there is a problem with a specific device, it can be put in quarantine, i.e. cut off from the rest of the business network.

Managing Licenses and Seats

One of the benefits of non-managed antivirus solutions is that there is a clear charting of what it will cost and how it will be implemented. The hassle of managing licenses can be a trying process for a modern SMB. Indeed, many organizations these days have a certain dynamism to their personnel and output. For example, what if in the summer your firm hired 10-20 interns and required licensed seats under the managed antivirus product service – but did not have that need the rest of the year? Even if a per-month cost plan can be acquired, it still adds extra activity to your schedule to manage, renew, and revoke licenses. Furthermore, managed solutions cost at least 10 times more than an un-managed one for the same number of seats, not including the admin salary and cost of the management platform.


Unmanaged antivirus solutions offer great benefits to SMBs over managed antivirus solutions. Enabling tailored multi-device protection including mobile phones, getting real time updates, and managing licenses and seats individually can reduce cost and headache for a business of a smaller number of employees. Likewise, unmanaged antivirus solutions saves you the disastrous consequences of having a single point of failure, thus affecting all computers connected, as well as the need for a dedicated Security Engineer. For your SMB, ZoneAlarm is a cost-effective and trusted non-managed antivirus solution with many benefits. ZoneAlarm’s award-winning products have been securing businesses for many years, and they continue to be a smart choice for securing the modern enterprise.