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Aruba and HP swim the OpenSEA

Two newest members of OpenSEA Alliance will only bolster open-source alternative to 802.1X protocol, says Jon Oltsik.

Buried under the end-of-year industry buzz last week was a fairly significant announcement. Wi-Fi leader Aruba Networks and the HP ProCurve division joined the OpenSEA Alliance, a group dedicated to the development and adoption of a robust and reliable open-source 802.1X supplicant for secure access to network and other computing resources. Aruba and HP join existing members including technology vendors Extreme Networks, Identity Engines, Infoblox, Symantec, TippingPoint, and Trapeze Networks. The OpenSEA Alliance also includes Janet, the U.K.'s education and research network boasting 18 million users.

So what the heck is this all about? The 802.1X protocol is an IEEE standard providing port authentication in networks. This adds a layer of identity and security to networks and serves as the root of industry initiatives such as Network Access Control (NAC) and Cisco Systems' TrustSec.

To provide this service, 802.1X depends upon client code called a supplicant. In the past, users depended upon three primary sources for client supplicants: Cisco (via its acquisition of Meetinghouse), Juniper (via its acquisition of Funk Software), and Microsoft. The problem is that these three supplicants don't always play well together, sometimes suffered from stability problems, and could add cost and licensing hassles for users. All in all, these issues made 802.1X way more difficult than necessary, limiting proliferation of a very useful standard. The OpenSEA Alliance was first formed in May to provide an open-source alternative that could alleviate these issues. The design goal was to model the OpenSEA Alliance 802.1X supplicant after Firefox by making it an extremely robust cross-platform and widely available open-source alternative.

The two new members only bolster this cause. As the Wi-Fi market share leader, Aruba can certainly rally its customers, original equipment manufacturers, and channel partners behind OpenSEA. The same goes for HP ProCurve. While images of HP tend to migrate toward OpenView, PCs, and printers, HP ProCurve is a multibillion dollar division and the No. 2 networking vendor in terms of ports shipped. As such, HP adds a ton of industry muscle, development skills, and global reach to the OpenSEA effort.

So what's next for the OpenSEA Alliance? It's likely that more and more of the networking and security crowd will want to participate in 2008; expect additional announcements before the big RSA and Interop shows. As this happens, the next to fall in line will be the operating-system players. Apple, Novell, and Red Hat should be interested. Don't be surprised if Microsoft is also willing to play. Don't get me wrong. Microsoft won't abandon its own 802.1X supplicant, but it will seek to make OpenSEA interoperable with Windows Server 2008 and all of its networking goodies.

After this, I expect to see the Internet Protocol handset and mobile device vendors to be the final straw. Think Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya, LG, Motorola, and Nokia. If this happens, the OpenSEA Alliance could have a profound impact on the industry in 2008 and beyond.