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NGFW vs. UTM—An Overview

Next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) and unified threat management (UTM) systems are both cyber defense technologies that incorporate a multi-pronged approach. By including several tools into one solution, IT administrators have greater control over their networks, saving time and people power.

Due to the similarities between the two solutions, there is sometimes a next-gen firewall vs. UTM debate. For some organizations, there is no need to view things from an NGFW vs. UTM perspective, particularly because a UTM comparison with an NGFW solution may reveal that both could work adequately. After all, some of the technologies “under the hood” accomplish the same things: threat detection and response, plus a list of management options. 

However, for many organizations, the differences are significant, especially when examined in the context of their company’s needs.

Comparative Analysis: Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW) and Unified Threat Management (UTM)

If you are considering a next-generation firewall vs. UTM solution, you may be wondering if it even makes a difference which one you choose. Usually, it does. Here is an explanation of each.


Unified threat management arose out of a need to meet the growing demands of the evolving threat landscape. As the kinds and severity of threats increased, the need for a single, packaged defense system became apparent. With a unified threat management system in place, your network security can all be handled under a single umbrella of services, such as hardware devices, virtual devices, and cloud services. 

In addition, you have UTM devices that function as network protectors and are positioned at key points within a system to monitor, manage, and mitigate threats that could target that particular network or segment. A UTM device may include technologies like:

  1. Antivirus
  2. Intrusion prevention system (IPS)
  3. Intrusion detection system (IDS)
  4. Spam filtering
  5. Virtual private network (VPN)
  6. Uniform Resource Locator (URL) filtering

With all these features, you get broad, general coverage for a number of threats. It is similar to buying a tool kit at a hardware store. Within that one box, you may have socket wrenches, Allen keys, pliers, spanners, and even a small hammer and tape measure. As a result, you are good to go for a lot of situations.


A next-generation firewall, on the other hand, is a more specific device that can often do a better job of addressing certain types of threats, such as denial-of-service (DoS) attacks and insider threats stemming from the internal manipulation of applications. This is because an NGFW typically comes with a robust intrusion prevention system, security measures that can detect and prevent DoS attacks, and visibility into the goings-on of specific applications.

The advanced degree to which an NGFW protects your network stem from the way it evolved as a solution meant to address the limitations of traditional firewalls. While traditional firewalls provide packet inspection, some threats are still able to slip through because the information in packet headers looks innocent. In other words, they appear to be coming from and heading to safe places. An NGFW can perform deep packet inspection (DPI), as well as use machine learning algorithms to detect potential threats.


The most elemental difference between UTM and next-generation firewall solutions is the degree to which they can be customized. With a UTM solution, you get what may be an adequate, comprehensive solution out of the box. If it covers many different kinds of threats, it may suffice. 

With an NGFW, you get the best performance only after making some adjustments, tuning your solution to suit the needs of your organization. This may present an advantage. Instead of simply opening a box of general tools, as is the case with a UTM system, with an NGFW, you have to take the time to ensure you get the right tools, they are strong enough, and they perform one or two specific tasks extremely well.

This is similar to choosing a high-grade steel spanner instead of an aluminum one, or a 12-inch socket wrench instead of the little one that comes in a kit. You want to ensure you are getting the best tool for each specific job.

Data Processing Capabilities

Another key difference between UTM systems and NGFWs is the amount of data each one is typically capable of processing. In many cases, NGFWs may be able to manage more traffic than your typical UTM. While the kind of UTM or NGFW you are considering will impact processing performances, in some situations, the dedicated security processing technologies present in NGFWs can better handle greater influxes of network traffic.

Choosing Between Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW) and Unified Threat Management (UTM)

For small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs), a UTM system is often a good choice because their data needs may not necessitate the horsepower of an NGFW. With a UTM, you get a broad range of protections and enough tools to cover your entire organization. However, you have to ensure that the system is scalable to accommodate business growth.

For companies that want to exercise more granular control over their cybersecurity infrastructure, as well as the visibility they have into specific applications and user activity, an NGFW is the tool to go for.

How Fortinet Can Help

Fortinet has both UTM and NGFW solutions suited to meet a wide array of business models and cybersecurity objectives. The FortiGate UTM gives you, among others:

  1. A firewall
  2. VPN
  3. IPS
  4. Traffic shaping
  5. Application control
  6. Antimalware
  7. Data loss prevention (DLP)
  8. Vulnerability management

The FortiGate NGFW provides high-throughput packet inspection, powered by a dedicated processor, real-time cyber defense, thanks to an artificial intelligence/machine learning-supported DPI system, and the ability to improve how your IT system functions with automated workflows.


What are the differences between NGFW and UTM?

At times, a UTM may contain a broader range of security tools, while an NGFW may be more customizable.

What are the differences in managing a next-generation firewall and unified threat management?

Managing a next-generation firewall may involve a more hands-on approach, while a UTM may not provide as many choices for adjusting the parameters of each tool that it comes with.