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The bring-your-own-device, or BYOD, phenomenon is flooding the enterprise with Apple products, but once these iOS devices are within the corporate network, it can be difficult to connect them to file sharing servers, monitors for presentations or printers.
So, some enterprises are turning to Apple's Bonjour protocol, which until now generally has been used in the consumer space to help iOS devices discover other Apple products and services on the same home network. The protocol has a shortfall in the enterprise, however: Because it was designed to locate Apple devices within the same network, it poses a problem for organizations with multiple networks.
To address this, wireless vendors such as Cisco Systems Inc. and Aerohive Networks Inc. have latched on to the growing trend of enterprise iOS devices and have developed a Bonjour gateway to help their customers facilitate the Bonjour protocol across a set of complex corporate networks.
"The first thing [users] want to know when bringing iPhones and iPads into the enterprise is how to connect to other devices, but it's a difficult question for IT to answer because of the design limitations of Bonjour," said Joel Vincent, director of product marketing for Aerohive.
The Bonjour Gateway that Aerohive has developed sits on the network and trunks iOS devices into other Apple devices and services across multiple networks simultaneously. "Without the gateway, [IT] would have to go into their core routers and create complicated configurations to get Bonjour to locate all those services and devices outside of the device's network," Vincent said. "[Now] the user asks what services and devices are available, and [the gateway] answers."
Bonjour protocol offers mobility, flexibility for education
The North Carolina-based Rowan-Salisbury School System, an Aerohive customer that includes 35 schools and 20,000 students, began using the Bonjour Gateway provided in the late-spring release of the Aerohive software.
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The school system's network sees more than 7,500 iOS devices used by students and teachers. They range from Apple TVs to iPods, and the number is only growing, said Phil Hardin, executive director of technology for the system.
Students and teachers are using the AirPrint feature, a capability built into iOS devices that allows the devices to connect to printers, and they use AirPlay, a feature that allows mobile iOS devices to stream videos, music and photos to Apple TVs for presentations and lessons.
"We have been able to move AirPrint and AirPlay, both Bonjour features, into the gateway, making it possible for us to manage devices across the various network infrastructures we have in place across different schools," Hardin said.
Bonjour gateway as mobile device management
The Bonjour gateway might not be able to replace mobile device management systems, but it does allow for granular control over how devices connect and where they have access. The Salisbury school system can set the number of devices that the protocol discovers, so some schools allow the gateway protocol to find, for example, only the iOS devices located in the same hallway.
What's more, the school system -- which will assign a school-sanctioned iOS device to every student in four schools this year -- can use the gateway to permit teachers to have network access that's different from the students' access.
Bonjour gateway might not be for everyone
While verticals like education and health care are allowing for an increase in iOS devices on the network, not every enterprise is rushing to support the Bonjour protocol. "Education is really clambering for [a Bonjour gateway] because students are bringing in their iPads and iPhones, especially within universities," noted Andre Kindness, senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc.
Apple, however, mostly designs devices, such as printers, for the consumer space, and the devices aren't necessarily suitable for the enterprise. In those cases, the Bonjour gateway wouldn't be necessary.
"Apple created a great way for iOS devices to easily find each other with its [Bonjour] protocol," Kindness said, noting that wireless vendors with specific industry customers -- like education -- must simplify the Bonjour protocol for their users.