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NAC Vendors in the Hot Seat

Cisco, Microsoft shared the dais, and their thoughts on NAC, here yesterday at Interop

LAS VEGAS -- Interop -- The big fish in network access control were together here yesterday: Cisco, Juniper, McAfee, and Microsoft, which nearly stole the show earlier in the week by announcing a deal with Trusted Computing Group. (See Vendors Get Their NAC Together.)

The four NAC rivals seemed mostly on the same page here during the "Truth About NAC" panel yesterday. Except, of course, when the talk came to standards. Cisco is now the only vendor that's not working with the TCG, and it's looking conspicuously lonely.

"We're down from three standards to two, but that's still one too many," said Vimal Solanki, senior director of worldwide product marketing for McAfee.

Russell Rice, director of product management for Cisco, said Cisco is focusing its standardization energy on the Internet Engineering Task Force's (IETF) emerging Network Endpoint Assessment specification. "That's the right area for standardization for us," he said. (See IETF Trains Its Sights On NAC.)

Cisco has held interoperability testing and demos with Microsoft and McAfee, and those interfaces will be built into Windows Server 2008 beta release, which will ship later this year, according to Paul Mayfield, group program manager for Microsoft.

Mayfield also said the upcoming Windows XP Service Pack 3 will include a NAC client. "Having the agent built into the OS reduces the cost of NAC deployment."

Rice, meanwhile, noted that in three of the four customer briefings he attended during Interop, the organizations were concerned about their outside contractors, or guest users, infecting their networks with their client machines. "NAC is for getting a handle on all the devices you can't easily manage, such as guests," he said, as well as reducing the risk of infection from internal clients.

Paul Hoffman, director of the Cybersecurity Association and moderator of the panel, said he was surprised the panelists were automatically including remote access in their NAC strategies, and not treating it as a special case. "All we care about is trusted access," says Karthik Krishnan, senior product line manager for Juniper, whether it's from the LAN or remote users.

Each vendor also offered a glimpse at what their NAC products would look like 18 months from now: Cisco's Rice said increased speed and more diverse form factors will make NAC more cost-effective.

Juniper's Krishnan said there will be more "use cases" for NAC: "Not all users will roll NAC across their network." Some may be focusing on securing a specific application, he said. "And devices will be coordinating with each other, with greater visibility among each other."

Microsoft's Mayfield said multivendor integration will increase. "And you'll see more emergence of higher-level policies to bring those things together. XP SP3 is going to help."

McAfee's Solanki said more user-defined policies will be on tap.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)
  • Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR)
  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)
  • McAfee Inc. (NYSE: MFE)
  • Trusted Computing Group
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