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Cisco Unifies Wireless, Wired Management

For all the competing products and approaches that might inspire debate among IT managers, at least one point is unlikely to attract dissent: Too much time is spent on day-to-day maintenance, especially in BYOD environments. Cisco aims to help with its Unified Access platform, an integrated network infrastructure introduced this week at Interop New York. Based on a single management infrastructure and a single policy source, the new system is intended to simplify management tasks and let customers use one interface to create, deploy and enforce access policies across wired, wireless, and VPN networks.

Central to the platform is Cisco's new Identity Service Engine (ISE) 1.1.1, which lets administrators create one policy for multiple access methods and device types. It supports automated, role-based access control enforcement based on contextual factors that include user identity, device and location. ISE additionally offers a self-provisioning portal that allows BYOD users to self-register devices.

Inbar Lasser-Raab, Cisco's senior director for Enterprise Networking Marketing, says Cisco is working with MDM vendors, including Good Technology and Mobile Iron, to include protective measures in the policy engine. For example, if a user profile accesses the network simultaneously from two devices in two locations, the system will recognize that one of the devices is likely lost or stolen and trigger alerts.

On the network side, Cisco announced Prime Infrastructure 1.2, which unites wired and wireless network management under a single platform. Customers that are running either Cisco Prime Network Control System (NCS) or Cisco Prime LAN Management Solution (LMS) will need to export their existing data into the new platform. Prime Infrastructure 1.2 offers a single workflow that administrators can harness not only to design and deploy operations but also--via Cisco's enhanced Application Visibility and Control technology--to monitor them as well. The company says the new platform can also manage Nexus hardware and the Nexus Virtual Services Appliance.

In addition to management tools, Cisco released new hardware to address the growing number of devices that networks must support (19 billion devices by 2016, according to Cisco), as well as to extend enterprise-class services to SMBs.

The Aironet 2600 and 1600 series access points offer midmarket businesses high-end WLAN features, such as Cisco CleanAir spectrum intelligence, which mitigates radio frequency interference; ClientLink 2.0 beam-forming technology; and what the company claims should be improved performance and better battery life for mobile devices. The Aironet 3600 series, meanwhile, gains an 802. 11ac module--a potential future-proofing feature, given that the .11ac standard is expected to replace 802. 11n.

Also announced was the Cisco Wireless 8500 Series Controller, which is aimed at large enterprises and supports up to 64,000 users and 6,000 access points in one-rack-unit form factor. Turning back to SMBs, the networking giant unveiled four new virtualized products with standard VMware management tools: a new virtualized controller, virtualized Cisco Mobility Service Engine, virtualized Cisco Prime Infrastructure and virtualized Cisco Identity Service Engine.

The announcements were rounded out by the Catalyst 3560-X and 3750-X switches, which include context-aware security features intended to benefit BYOD environments.

"We've largely had disparate, even disconnected management systems for a while," says Rohit Mehra, IDC's director of Enterprise Communications Infrastructure and an Interop New York attendee. He notes that "wireless networks have been deployed like an overlay over wired infrastructure." The result is that "IT has looked at the networks as separate, with separate policies," and that basic processes have consequently been duplicated. Unified Access, he says, cuts down on this duplication. It should "help relieve some of the burden off IT when it comes to management, security, and quality of service."

All the products are currently available except the 1600 series access points, which will hit the market in December, and the 802. 11ac module for the Aironet 3600, which will appear in the second quarter of 2013.