Cisco Borderless Networks

25 03 2010

I attended the Cisco Borderless Networks launch last week and found it to be a really interesting and informative event.  Here is why this is not just esoteric network stuff, but will make the lives of network users easier and more productive.

Borderless Networking, Cisco’s term for their cloud computing architecture, goes way beyond just networking. In this architecture, the network itself becomes the platform for application services. Cisco’s version of the architecture includes the following:

  • Networking
  • Data Center
  • Virtualization
  • Communication and Collaboration
  • Video

What is really interesting is that Cisco has delivered management and policy tools across the product line at the same time it was rolling out new products (see below for more).

Borderless Networks is a different style of computing. In the old style, businesses built and managed a set of applications such as Financials, Logistics, HR, Supply Chain, ERP, etc. and surrounded it with a firewall to keep the “bad guys” out. That no longer works because you could only be fully productive if you were inside the corporate firewall.

Today, there are a lot of people outside of the corporate firewall who need access to corporate data and applications. For example:

  • Traveling and mobile employees. Example: Sales people.
  • Work-at-home employees
  • Consultants
  • Supply Chain supplier/partners
  • Channel Partners

In the new style of cloud computing, the network itself becomes the platform for computing and applications are presented as “services” on the network available to anybody, anywhere, anytime on any device. The obvious challenge here is to deliver these services with a high level of security, and that is a lot of the focus of the Borderless Networks architecture.

What do we mean by security?

  1. Authentication: the network needs to identify who you are.
  2. Authorization: once the network knows who you are, the network needs to establish what things you are allowed to do. Can you access a particular application / service? Are you allowed read-only privileges, or are you allowed to modify data? Which data?
  3. Location Aware: The network will allow different privileges depending on where you are located and the security of your access method.

The key thing is that cloud computing is new with very few established industry standard defining what the term means. This will take years to play out.

Who is going to deliver Cloud Computing?

  • Enterprises: Forward-thinking enterprises are moving to a cloud computing architecture for a lot of reasons, but the main on is to improve employee productivity and better integration with partners.
  • Service Providers: Companies such as Google, Salesforce.com, and NetSuite are delivering applications as services over the Internet today.
  • Cloud Computing Platforms: Other companies are operating computing platforms “in the cloud” and selling compute power, storage, networking bandwidth, etc. to companies who want access to applications without owning and operating all the complicated infrastructure underneath. Examples: Google, Amazon.com, Salesforce.com.

The important thing is that Borderless Networks and Cloud Computing are not just relevant to business users. They are widely used by consumers today who use cloud applications such as Gmail, Google Apps, Picassa, etc.

What Was Interesting about the Cisco Borderless Networking Announcement?

Actually, quite a lot. Cisco announced a refresh of practically all of its routers and switches, but interestingly, that was not the main focus of the discussion. What was more interesting (and emphasized) was that the new products were rolled out while at the same time implementing Borderless Network features called AnyConnect across its product line:

· Device Management: Cisco MediaNet knows what device you are accessing the network services with and can manage your interactions with the services in terms of the bandwidth and video capability of your device. Cisco can now construct video conferences with people using a wide variety of video capabilities from Telepresence, to desktop Web conferencing to smart phone video conferencing. They say they can support the 19 main types of video protocols in a mixed fashion.

· Security: Cisco announced TrustSec security management across its product line.

o Your Identity and security credentials follow you on the network. You do not have to keep logging into different applications and different network access point.

o The network is intelligent and knows when to prompt you to ask if you want to transfer from one access device to another. Such as when you walk into your office with a smart phone. The session is transferred with full security credentials, no additional login required.

o Multi-hop network security.  This has been a big problem for years.  In cases where the end-to-end network security solution involves multiple hops between network routers, there has been a problems with passing security credentials.  Cisco has a solution for multi-hop environments that will make secure access for mobile and wireless users much more robust.

o Cisco is working with Intel on MaxSec, a technology to extend the multi-hop security architecture to Intel devices on the network.

· Energy Management: Cisco has implemented EnergyWise energy management across its product line using Power over Ethernet (PoE). The network can power itself down and also devices attached to the network using PoE.

How Does This Change My Life?

There are a lot of technologies converging and integrating here to create a platform for network services. What this means for the consumer of services is:

  • You will log in once and your security credentials will follow you.
  • The network will be intelligent, allowing you to transfer your sessions between devices seamlessly.
  • Collaboration will become easier to use and more integrated with other applications.
  • Video will become more widely used for communication and collaboration.
  • Video Conferencing will become a lot easier to use. It is really fun and productive today, when it works, but there can be complications. It is getting easier.
  • End Users will soon be working is a world where public services from Google, Amazon, Salesforce.com and private services from their employers work together in everyday productivity.
  • These changes will provide a big productivity boost to companies, schools and countries that implement them.

John Chambers spoke at the end of the session and said that he believes that Video is the new “killer application” for cloud computing: It is how we will work and how we will collaborate.

Cloud Computing has a long way to go before it reaches maturity, but this is a big step forward towards defining an architecture that is compelling and useful to IT departments, Service Providers and end users.

Resources:

Cisco Borderless Networks

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