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NAC-in-the-Box, Jump Up

Vernier, ConSentry launch improvements to their Network Access Control appliances

Two of the leading makers of in-line network access control (NAC) appliances introduced new products today, improving enterprises' prospects for implementing the security technology without degrading network performance.

NAC -- a means of improving end point security by testing and remediating client devices before allowing them to join the network -- is a hot button in enterprises of all sizes these days. But many companies are deploying NAC as an out-of-band function because of concerns that in-line NAC devices might inhibit network performance or increase latency. Some users also have expressed concerns that NAC appliances do not offer sufficient remediation capabilities, such as intrusion prevention.

Today's announcements address those concerns. In one rollout, Vernier Networks launched its EdgeWall 8800, a NAC appliance that offers wire-speed authentication and validated access to all users on the network. The 8800 uses Cavium Networks' Octeon chip technology, giving the appliance faster performance than earlier models. The new device also offers an integrated intrusion detection and prevention (IDP) engine.

In the other launch, ConSentry Networks unveiled Release 3.0 of its LANShield OS and Insight Command Center, which combine LAN switching and NAC appliance capabilities. The new offerings deliver more information about end user activity on the network, as well as automatic authentication and simplified incident response, the company says.

Although their products are very different, both Vernier and ConSentry have a common goal: to convince enterprises that NAC can be done in-line, securing end user access without hindering network performance, notes Andrew Braunberg, an analyst at Current Analysis.

"The main reason for choosing out-of-band solutions is the performance issue," Braunberg says. "If you choose to do NAC in-line, then the whole issue of speeds and feeds becomes paramount."

Vernier is addressing the performance issue with the Cavium chip, an open microprocessor technology that accelerates the automated process of checking a user's security credentials before allowing him or her to log on. ConSentry uses a proprietary chip that it claims is optimized for NAC processing. Each vendor claims to be faster than the other, though no independent performance comparisons were available.

Most organizations have not deployed NAC at an enterprise level, so the question of who's faster may not be at the top of network and security managers' minds yet, Branberg observes.

"For most companies, the impetus behind NAC is guest access and how to ensure the security of outside devices that use the network, such as the ones used by partners or contractors," he says. "They're deploying NAC on a small scale, with maybe just one appliance attached to a conference room. It's a big jump from that sort of environment to an enterprise-wide NAC implementation."

That's not to say that the NAC market isn't ramping up quickly, Braunberg says. Medium-sized companies already are adopting the technology, particularly in the health care and higher education markets, he states. Research firm IDC predicts that the market for identity and access management systems, including NAC, will grow at a rate of nearly 25 percent per year to reach $2 billion in 2010.

Vernier's EdgeWall 8800 is available now with a starting price of $29,900. The total cost of the package can be as low as $25 per seat, officials say. ConSentry's LANShield Controller lists for $17,995, and the LANShield Switch costs $13,995.

Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

  • ConSentry Networks Inc.
  • Vernier Networks Inc.
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