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Cisco Unified Access blends wired, wireless management for IT

Cisco Unified Access integrates wired, wireless network management, simplifying IT operations for enterprises.

As the bring-your-own-device trend and cloud-based applications clutter the enterprise network, Cisco Unified Access gives administrators a single set of network management tools and security policies across its wired, wireless and virtual private networks.

Cisco claims the new management portfolio will ease the pain associated with running multiple networks within an enterprise by bringing together a consistent set of network capabilities and allowing all networks to act as a single entity, said Inbar Lasser-Raab, senior director of enterprise networking marketing for Cisco.

"Complexities within IT are only growing, and every organization is really struggling to keep up with the new devices and applications entering their network," she said. "Cisco Unified Access can simplify operational activities for the IT department, who can then spend more time driving new business opportunities."

Cisco Unified Access provides centralized access control, simplifies IT

Wired and wireless networks have been traditionally deployed, configured and managed separately with distinct configurations and security policies, said Rohit Mehra, director of enterprise communications infrastructure for Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.

"If IT wanted to make any policy changes, they've had to do it separately to both networks," he said.

Vendors -- especially those that have both wired and wireless networking products like Cisco, HP and Juniper -- have been striving for some level of management integration between wired and wireless networking.

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"In its new portfolio, Cisco has integrated more of [its] security and policy considerations, irrespective of whether the user is wired or wireless, or even the location of the user," Mehra said.

A good way vendors have initially integrated [the wired and wireless networks] was to use the same authentication database, Mehra said.

The Cisco Unified Access portfolio goes further than basic authentication. The newly released Cisco Identity Service Engine (ISE) 1.1.1 with Secure Group Access is a self-provisioning portal that uses one policy across wired, wireless and VPNs to control access based on user, device and location.

"[Network administrators] will only have to establish and implement one set of policies that will apply automatically across the wireless and wired domains to all users," IDC's Mehra said.

For management of wireless, wired, campus and branch network infrastructure within a single system, Cisco Prime Infrastructure 1.2 allows IT to design, deploy, operate, report and administer network operations from one interface.

Cisco Unified Access also offers enhanced Application Visibility and Control (AVC) to help network administrators monitor, analyze and troubleshoot application health.

Cisco and other vendors will continue to strive for a single solution for management, security and policy across the entire enterprise infrastructure, which they see as an essential differentiator, said Tim Zimmerman, research vice president for Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.

Unified network management becomes even more important as enterprises deploy all-wireless offices -- especially smaller or remote offices -- and mobility grows, he noted.

Enterprises also want to consolidate the number of people managing networks. A tool that integrates wired and wireless management can simplify operations. "An integrated management tool -- like Cisco Prime Infrastructure -- can help enterprises that are looking for a single pane of glass to manage the entire access layer," Zimmerman said.

"The [administrator] having to provision and manage the wired network is the same person as the wireless administrator, as wireless becomes more pervasive throughout the enterprise," Zimmerman said. "Rather than having separate tools with different interfaces, [Cisco Prime Infrastructure] allows IT to have [a] single solution."

Cisco Unified Access: Less operations, more innovation

Network administrators have historically spent a lot of time on operational activities -- such as managing devices, troubleshooting connectivity issues and setting security policies. "IT doesn't have the time [to] come up for air and think about how to change the way business is delivered or come up with ideas on how to expand revenue opportunities," Cisco's Lasser-Raab said.

Granting IT a single pane for centralized access control can empower enterprises to expand services, she said, noting that by simplifying network management, IT will have more time to develop new business offerings for a more connected consumer experience.

"The IT department within hospitality services and facilities -- like sports stadiums -- could expand business opportunities with customers, like enabling additional video streams of angles of the game the customers perhaps couldn't see from their seats," she said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Gina Narcisi, news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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How is this anything new? Unified network management has existed for years. #Fortenet has it all the way out to the mobile Forteclient.