Open Microsoft, proprietary Cisco?

At Interop conference, it seems that Microsoft is embracing networking collaboration, while Cisco Systems has never seemed more proprietary.

Jon Oltsik
Jon Oltsik is a senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group. He is not an employee of CNET.
Jon Oltsik
2 min read

LAS VEGAS--I'm here at the Interop conference, networking-geek heaven. Yesterday was Network Access Control day, so I'd be remiss if I didn't wish everyone a belated happy NAC day to start.

Yesterday's big networking news didn't break here. It came from Redmond, Wash.: Microsoft announced two partnership announcements.

First, Microsoft announced that its version of NAC called Network Access Protection would interoperate with the Trusted Network Connect (TNC) framework from the Trusted Computing Group, or TCG. Not content with a single new friend, Microsoft made a similar announcement with Juniper Networks, declaring NAP interoperability with Juniper's Unified Access Control (UAC).

Before continuing, let me apologize for the preponderance of Three Letter Acronyms (TLAs) in the last paragraph. Occupational hazard.

Microsoft's announcements are pretty significant in that the software giant has opened the door to altruistic but somewhat marketing-challenged TNC members such as Extreme Networks, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel Networks and Symantec. Those companies get a big boost, and Microsoft demonstrates a level of newfound openness with others.

The not-so-transparent other ramification of this announcement is its impact on Cisco Systems. Thus far, Cisco has invited others to work with its proprietary NAC architecture but has been unwilling to deal with the TNC, claiming that it prefers to work with industry standards groups and not other vendors.

In the last two weeks, Microsoft embraced TNC, while a number of other industry leaders formed the OpenSEA Alliance to develop an open-source 802.1X supplicant. By contrast, Cisco has never seemed more proprietary than it does today.

What does all this mean?

• Microsoft gets it. Working with standards groups and open source doesn't threaten the Windows franchise. Many companies want to use Windows tools like Active Directory and Windows networking services to manage other network elements and end-point devices. In this case, Redmond gets to embrace industry standards work and extend the reach of Windows management.

• Cisco doesn't need to work with open standards and open source to succeed. The halo effect of its installed base, its fantastic customer support and its global sales force will do just fine, thank you. That said, Cisco is looking pretty isolated and proprietary these days. It needs to do something fast for its image alone. Offering an olive branch to TNC or the OpenSEA Alliance would be a great start.

• TNC gets new life, which is a good thing. There is a lot of fine work going on at TNC, but it was the best kept secret in networking, and that ain't a good thing when Cisco and Microsoft are spending oodles of marketing dollars on NAC marketing. The rising Microsoft NAP tide will float the TNC boat.

Now that NAC day is over, I wonder what kind of esoteric networking technology we will celebrate in Las Vegas today.