How Cisco copes with the BYOD movement

Cisco Systems Inc. is one of the biggest IT companies in the world, with a disciplined organization.

But even after it standardized on Windows for its desktops earlier this decade, staff stubbornly brought in devices running other operating systems.

The lesson, attendees at a Toronto telecom conference learned Thursday, is that even Cisco couldn’t resist the bring-your-own device movement.

How the company coped was discussed at the Know Your Alternatives telecommunications conference on dealing with BYOD, which speaker Ian Gallagher, Cisco Canada’s director of collaboration engineering, acknowledged is “almost absurdly complicated.”

In 1999 the network equipment maker standardized on Windows, but three years later there was “a grass roots movement” within software development teams who wanted to use some variety of Unix because they were compiling emulators for Cisco’s Unix-based IOS routers and switches.

So, without IT approval, there was an “explosion” of SUSE Linux and Apple Macintosh-bases PCs. These users were self-supported, but eventually the company’s IT department agreed to support new platforms.

Similarly, despite designating the Palm Treo as Cisco’s [Nasdaq: CSCO] official smart phone, users brought in other handsets.

“But,” Gallagher added, “they (IT) has been very careful to simplify what they support. They say this is the functionality we support on this device – whether it’s a smart phone or a tablet or a non-Windows-based laptop. We’ll provide you with a virtual desktop interface, with certain key software capabilities [such as Cisco’s Jabber softphone], but as an end user you’ve got to support other stuff.” Anything corporate the company supports.

The BYOD movement is hard to resist, Gallagher said, in part because younger staff is at ease using certain tools and believe they need them to get their work done.

But it helps to have policies and networks to ensure end-to-end security, along with desktop virtualization to help simplify IT’s job in supporting various devices.

Loss of control is what IT managers fear most in allowing staff to bring their own devices, Gallagher said in an interview. That can be remedied by setting out exactly what the organization wants control of, then looking for the tools and network architecture that allows them to meet those targets.

“When we say flat out ‘just use any device,’ we don’t do that at Cisco,” he added. “We have guest access and we have areas where you can use absolutely any device. But as an employee if you want to use certain services you do under certain circumstances have to use a limited set of devices.”

At another session, vendors outlined some of their newest technologies which they think will be hot in the coming year.

–“Dual persona” handsets. Bernard Gutnick, senior director of product marketing at unified communications systems maker ShoreTel, talked about the ability of his and other UC makers to give mobile handsets two personalities by having two phone numbers on one device.

It’s a logical extension of BYOD, he said, which meets the needs of users, who only one to carry one handset and IT, which wants to ensure the devices are secure.

With the capability, business users being called will only see your business number displayed and not your home phone.

It also ensures long distance or roaming charges go to the right number.

–Automatic voice recording. Richard Vogt, vice-president of North American sales for Red Box Recorders, presented his firm’s application, aimed at industries that for regulatory reasons insist certain staff have their calls recorded, even on mobile devices.

Red Box’s application sits on BlackBerry, Android and Apple iPhone handsets capturing voice and SMS messages. It’s managed through a browser.

Users can set up blacklists to turn off recording (to a home number, for example).

–Running unified communications on a virtual desktop. It can be done, Cisco’s Gallagher said, through his company’s virtualization experience infrastructure (VXI), which is an architecture that wraps around popular desktop virtualization solutions.

VXI has a display protocol that carries screen information from the virtual machine in the data centre to the desktop.

–Desktop phones systems with plug in tablets. Coming next month from NEC Americas is a unit with swappable interfaces for tablets. Gary Gordon of NEC Americas showed a unit holding a 7-in Samsung Galaxy Tab. Eventually, he predicted, tablets will be PCs for many office workers.

Don Stewart, NEC Canada’s vice-president, also predicted face and fingerprint biometrics “are going to be moving into your realm sooner than you think,” including on mobile devices.


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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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