How to
Ryan Harnedy
Aug 2016

How to Evaluate Security Software and Make the Most of Free Trials

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Software free trials are a great way to evaluate a new security tool before you purchase it. You can see how a product works, how well it integrates into your existing security stack, and make sure it solves the problem you’re looking to solve.

However, if you sign up for a free trial without a game plan, or if you use the wrong testing method for the software you’re evaluating, you’ll wind up wasting a lot of time and resources without gaining any real insight. And when it comes to your company's security, time and resources are precious things you can't afford to waste. 

To help you make the most of your free trial with any security product we've put together a trial to-do list that will help make the test drive as smooth, effective, and informative as possible.

Evaluating Security Software: Free Trial To-Do List

Before Your Trial

  1. Make up a trial game plan: Before you click on that “start your trial” button you should have a good idea of what you’re getting into. Make sure you know how long the trial is, how intensive the setup and installation requirements are, and what success looks like for this product.
  2. Decide who needs to be involved in the trial: Who is going to be using and managing the solution day-to-day? Who is going to be responsible for reporting on its effectiveness? These are the people who should be involved in the trial. Make a list of who they are and which specific aspects of the product they’ll want to see in action. For more tips, here's a post on "The 3 People You Need Involved in a Free Trial."
  3. Make the product aligns with other solutions in your security stack: Your time is too precious to spend on products that either solve old problems your other tools already handle or cause new problems thanks to poor integration. Before you start the trial try your best to determine where the new software overlaps with your existing protection and how much additional value it provides.
  4. Know who your trial contact is: When you're heading into uncharted territory it’s always a good idea to take along a guide. For your trial this could be a vendor customer success rep, technical support, or an account manager. Whoever it is, make sure you have their contact info so you can go to them with questions, concerns, or feedback. And speaking of questions, here is a list of "10 Questions to Ask Any Security Software Vendor Before You Buy."

During Your Trial

  1. Install your protection on multiple machines: A popular approach to testing out security software is to install it on a single machine to make sure it doesn't cause any problems. That can be a great first step, but since you’ll likely be rolling out the product to the majority of your users (in the case of endpoint security, anyhow), downloading it on multiple machines will give you a more realistic picture of what you can expect. You'll also want to get a good feel for how the dashboard will look and how the product will function supporting multiple computers.
  2. Make sure it plays nice with your other applications: One of the most important things when testing out any new security tool is confirming it’s compatible with other software and that it integrates well with your existing security stack. Otherwise, by trying to fix one problem you may be causing others.
  1. Spend some time in the dashboard: Anyone who will be spending time in the management console should get familiar with the layout and features available there. See what kinds of insights you can generate in the dashboard and reports.
  1. Check the performance footprint: Avoiding downtime and keeping machines up and running fast is one of the biggest reasons to invest in security software to begin with. So keep an eye on performance. It doesn’t do you any good if the software you’re using to keep your users working prevents them from using their computers.

Before the End of Your Trial

  1. Think about what roll-out will actually look like: As you wind down your trial, you should have a good idea whether or not this a vendor you want to work with. If things are looking good and you’d like to move forward, take some time to sketch out what deploying beyond your trial will look like. How long will it take to push out to your users? Will this new software be rolled out to everyone or just certain teams? When do you need to deploy? Answering these questions before the trial is over will give you a good head start.
  1. Have a trial retrospective: Block off time to get together with everyone involved in the decision-making process to talk about how the evaluation went. What worked? What didn’t work? Is the new solution going to be worth the time and effort to roll out and manage? Is it going to help you and others do your jobs? Having everyone in the same room to talk about their experiences with the trial will help ensure everyone is on the same page.

    Pro-tip: Get anyone responsible for purchasing/signing off on new software involved early on during the trial, too. That way, they can let you know what next steps are for signing up and making the purchase.

Save Even More Time

Get More Tips on How to Evaluate Endpoint Security Software

If you’d like to learn more about making shopping for and evaluating endpoint security software easier, check out the Barkly Endpoint Security Buyer’s Guide.

Inside you'll find:

  • A printable version of this free trial checklist
  • a list of questions to ask vendors
  • a worksheet for self-assessing your top security needs
  • a costs calculator to put a number on how much you're currently spending to keep your computers up and running and virus free

Ryan Harnedy

Ryan Harnedy

Ryan writes about how to make cybersecurity make sense to end users and keep employees safe from ransomware, malware, and phishing attacks. He enjoys decoding buzzwords and sharing security tips that users might actually follow.


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