Cisco Looks to Bring Networks Together Via Unified Access

Through its enhanced Unified Access solution, Cisco is looking to bring an enterprise’s wired and wireless networks under a single policy umbrella.

Cisco Systems is unveiling a unified networking solution designed to bring wired, wireless and private networks under a single policy and management umbrella, and aimed at helping enterprises deal with the rapid growth of traffic on their networks and the issues around the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend.

At the Interop 2012 show in New York this week, Cisco officials will be showing off its latest additions to its Unified Access solution, which includes features that make it easier for employees to get their personal mobile devices—particularly smartphones and tablets—securely onto the network, taking that burden off the IT staff, and to bring wireless, wired, campus and branch networks into a single system, making them easier to design, deploy and manage.

Doing so will help IT departments as they negotiate their way through the onslaught of changes that are putting increasing pressure on their networks, according to Inbar Lasser-Raab, senior director of enterprise networking marketing at Cisco. That includes everything from the adoption of cloud computing, the growth of video, and the increasing numbers of Internet users and connected devices.

Cisco officials believe that by 2015, there will be 3 billion Internet users and 15 billion connected devices in the world. That number will grow to 18.9 billion connected devices by 2016, according to the networking market leader. The company also has said that by 2014, more than half of computing workloads in data centers will be cloud-based, and that cloud traffic worldwide will grow 12 times by 2015.

As far as the BYOD trend, almost all businesses indicate they are struggling with how to keep up, and by 2014, 90 percent of enterprises will allow employees to use their personal devices for work, Lasser-Raab told eWEEK.

A problem is that currently, IT departments spend 80 percent of their time keeping the infrastructure up and running, rather than innovating, she said. “They have all these technologies, but they have not come together yet,” Lasser-Raab said.

The challenge is to free up the IT department to spend more of its time helping enterprises grab onto the new business opportunities these BYOD, cloud and other trends present.

“If IT organizations want to have a seat at the table and impact the business, a strong and agile IT platform is required,” Pankaj Gupta, director of IP video marketing at Cisco, said in an Oct. 3 blog post. “This platform can become a business differentiator and will enable business transformation.”

That is where the Unified Access solution comes in, Lasser-Raab said. Cisco over the past couple of years has been putting many of the parts of the Unified Access solution in place, from the Identity Service Engine (ISE) to the Prime Infrastructure. Now the company is putting all that under a single umbrella.

Included in the offering is the ISE 1.1.1, which includes Secure Group Access, which is designed to bring automated, role-based access control enforcement to wired and wireless networks based on such factors as the user, the device and the location. It also includes the My Devices portal, which makes it easy for employees to bring their devices onto the corporate network and manage them through a self-registration workflow.

“It really puts the ownership [of managing the devices on the network] onto the users,” Lasser-Raab said.

Cisco’s Prime Infrastructure 1.2 unifies the wired and wireless network infrastructures into a single entity, giving network administrators an integrated workflow to more easily design, deploy and manage their various networks.

As part of its networking effort, Cisco also is rolling out new wireless access points and a controller for service providers and large enterprises. The new access points include the Aironet 2600 and 1600 series, which complement the current 3600 Series and giving Cisco a complete set of 802.11n access points. In addition, Aironet 3600 Series users can now upgrade their access points with an 802.11ac module.

The Wireless 8500 Series Controller can manage up to 6,000 access points and 64,000 clients from a single 1U (1.75-inch) form factor.

For small and midsize deployments, Cisco is unveiling four virtualized products armed with VMware virtualization tools. Included among the products is the virtualized Mobility Services Engine, virtualized Prime Infrastructure and virtualized ISE.

Most of the products are available now. The Aironet 1600 Series access points will come in December, and the 802.11ac module for the Aironet 3600 Series will arrive in the second quarter of 2013.