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Cisco bolsters Borderless Networks with security and video

Channel partners can help customers define policies by user and device

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) has extended its Borderless Network portfolio with new management, security and video solutions the company says will streamline network management for IT staff, and they open up new opportunities for the channel, according to a Cisco executive.

The new solutions include a centralized policy engine, called Identity Services Engine, which manages security policies for enterprise users across a spectrum of devices that access the network.

That’s driven by a trend toward “user entitlement,” according to Marie Hattar, vice-president of Borderless Networks marketing. “They believe they have device freedom,” Hattar said in a videoconference interview on Monday.

She cited the example of a financial institution whose IT department insisted it would not support access to the network with tablet computers, until executives showed up with their iPads and demanded it. Employees want the freedom to work from anywhere, on any type of device, with their choice of applications, she said.

“There’s an IT burden that’s associated with that,” she said.

ISE integrates the functionality of Cisco’s Network Access Control appliances so devices are verified as they move through the network, not just at the perimeter, she said. A device profiler creates a database of expected behaviour by particular devices and can alert network managers to problems if the behaviour doesn’t fit the pattern.

Tim Currie, Cisco Systems Canada Co.’s gneral manager for Borderless Networks, said that historically, there’s been a “keep ‘em at the perimeter” approach to network security. The ISE approach is less appliance-based, with more distributed intelligence, he said.

ISE follows the identity of the user, device and application at the network and design level, which is “very powerful,” said Michelle Warren, principal analyst with MW Research & Consulting. Network managers don’t have to be involved at every step in the process.

“It’s a further integration … they’ve taken the pain points that customers have felt.”

Identity policies can be tailored for specific vertical industry regulations, making it easier for channel partners offering Cisco support to develop solutions, Warren said.

Other elements announced include Cisco Prime for Enterprise, a unified manament solution, and Cisco Medianet and Video Conferencing, which automates voice and video delivery.

“Video is one of the most demanding applications to come across a network,” Hattar said. The media services interface streams data about end points on the network for automatic configuration. While its embedded in Cisco devices, a proxy server can configure devices from other manufacturers.

Medianet can inject simulated traffic to the network to determine what upgrades might be needed for the network or what quality of service and servicel level agreements the network can manage.

One partner opportunity, according to Hattar, is on the policy front, where partners can help customers define policies by user and device.

Meanwhile, Cisco recently doubled the bounty on network readiness assessments to $2,000.

Video assessment fits into Cisco’s install base lifecycle management program, Currie said.

Cisco estimates there is $5 billion in legacy wireless infrastructure, and less than 10 per cent has been migrated 802.11n. Higher bandwidth is needed for burgeoning video traffic and the demands of tablet computers. Of the dozens of tablets announced at January’s Consumer Electronics Show, none had Ethernet ports, Hattar pointed out.

Cisco is offering a “churn incentive” of up to $250 per access point, Currie said.