In July 2004, Cisco and Microsoft both announced separate plans for enforcing endpoint security – Cisco’s Network Admission Control (NAC) and Microsoft’s Network Access Protection (NAP). At the time the announcements set off alarm bells, since it looked like a vendor square-off to take control of security, with users being the most likely losers.
Then a few months later, Microsoft and Cisco announced they would work together to make NAP and NAC interoperable. Still, some observers wondered if the two companies would be able to work with one another.
Fortunately, it appears they have been able to work together, as the two companies laid out their NAC-NAP roadmap this month. Unfortunately, the network access control picture is still incomplete since vendors who are part of neither the NAP nor NAC programs may have trouble fitting their products into either framework.
Both Microsoft and Cisco say they’re working with other vendors (many of whom have come together under the umbrella of the Trusted Computing Group) to come up with open industry standards for network access control.
In Cisco’s case though, there is reason to be sceptical. This year one of Cisco’s NAC partners, ConSentry Networks, released a new product, LANShield Switch, with embedded NAC functionality. Days after the release of the switch, ConSentry was informed it was no longer welcome in NAC.
To be fair to Cisco, ConSentry had been aggressive in attacking Cisco, even before the launch of the switch, saying ConSentry’s products gave users a cheaper path to NAC than having to upgrade to Cisco’s NAC gear.
Cisco will have to develop a thicker skin if the company is truly intent on working with competing vendors to create open standards. Up until now Cisco has used NAC as a differentiator to try to beat out other networking vendors when competing for accounts. If Cisco truly has its customers’ best interests in mind, it will work towards standards that will make network access control as seamless and painless as possible — no matter which vendor’s gear is involved.