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Lee Badman
Lee Badman
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Taming Apple's Bonjour

By now we know that iPhones and iPads (and a few of those Android things) have infiltrated the enterprise, but much of Apple's approach to networking and interdevice functionality is still a bit, well, consumer-oriented, which has IT scrambling to deal with protocols that often conflict with enterprise IT's goals.

By now, we know that iPhones and iPads (and a few of those Android things) have infiltrated the enterprise, but much of Apple's approach to networking and interdevice functionality is still a bit, well, consumer-oriented, which has IT scrambling to deal with protocols that often conflict with enterprise IT's goals. Aerohive is a progressive WLAN solution based on distributed intelligence (dubbed Cooperative Control), with no pricey controllers in the topology. The company has an interesting product that may help IT bridge the gap--the new BonJour Gateway, which lets Apple's devices work while providing IT the control it desires.

Using mechanisms like Zero-Configuration Networking that enable all sorts of powerful, friendly device interconnection capabilities, Bonjour clients are supposed to easily find other Bonjour-enabled devices (clients, printers, Apple TVs, and so on) and connect with minimal fuss. In the home, Bonjour-based applications like AirPrint are elegant, but they frequently don't play well on enterprise networks that have multiple broadcast domains, network firewalls and restrictions that create unpredictable results for consumer-oriented services like Bonjour. That's where Aerohive is stepping up. Aerohive is a small player in the WLAN market, which makes what it is doing for device giant Apple that much more curious.

For Aerohive customers, the Bonjour Gateway will be just another part of the Hive OS operating system, letting customers share Bonjour-based services across multiple network segments while providing a control point that tames what could become chaos, where lots of client devices are all advertising lots of services. For non-Aerohive environments, the device sits out of band via a trunk port and plays Bonjour switchboard-operator by providing both device-to-device connectivity and enforcing corporate policy. A given iPad may get access only to a specific printer and Apple TV, despite dozens being in the Bonjour environment, for example. It's a pretty fascinating product and feature set, but as I shared with Aerohive during our briefing, it also makes me a bit uncomfortable.

Aerohive has eyes wide open to the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) tidal wave washing over small and big networks alike, and has craftily developed a fix. But will it be right for all environments?

For me, I'd prefer that Apple do the wireless world a favor and either rework Bonjour to be more enterprise-friendly or come up with some other device-to-device magic that fits better in large standards-based network environments. Yes, I know--Apple is big enough and its devices in such high demand that it doesn't have to change, but that doesn't mean that it gets a free pass from people trying to keep big networks full of quirky Apple devices running smoothly.

And where the Bonjour gateway does provide relief, it's still another point on the network to be supported and managed, despite its ease of use. Non-techies may be able to snap in something that magically connects Bonjour-y devices across networks, but this may not play well with management strategies. But hats off to Aerohive for a solution that will no doubt make many from Apple Nation very happy. The Aerohive Bonjour Gateway is expected to release in the second quarter, but you can get a glimpse of what it does on YouTube .

Disclosure: I have no relationship with Aerohive.

Lee is a Network Engineer and Wireless Technical Lead for a large private university. He also teaches classes on networking, wireless network administrtaion, and wireless security. Lee's technical background includes 10 years in the US Air Force as an Electronc Warfare ... View Full Bio
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