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Microsoft, Cisco Team on Network Access Protections

Microsoft and Cisco are teaming up to share security information across products, an effort that should ultimately make offerings from both vendors more secure.

The agreement concerns Cisco’s Network Admissions Control (NAC) and Microsoft’s Network Access Protection (NAP) technologies, both designed to make sure devices brought onto a network are updated with the latest patches and meet security standards set by administrators. The goal, according to a joint Microsoft-Cisco press release, is to make both architectures interoperable and allow customers to implement a more seamless security environment.

“Joint Microsoft-Cisco customers are going to say hallelujah”, said Samm DiStasio, a Group Product Manager in the Windows Server Group.

There are three phases to this interoperability, DiStasio said. “There’s access itself. [Phase two says] I need to check machine’s health. [Phase three says] if I find that something’s wrong, what do I do about it?”

To make that all happen properly, DiStasio continued, products “need to be able to pass messages between both systems. Customers told us that the solutions need to work together.”

The new integration, however, will delay NAP more than a year over recent plans, making it a part of Windows "Longhorn" server instead of the next major upgrade of Windows Server 2003, dubbed “R2”. R2 is currently slated for shipping in the second half of 2005, while Longhorn server is expected sometime in 2007 (with the beta expected also in second half 2005).

In addition to a delay, the new approach offers a response to criticisms from several analysts that the networking industry's heavyweights, Microsoft and Cisco, needed to get together on the issue of network access or leave users with hopelessly fragmented approaches.

This integration goes beyond just the two companies, however. Cisco and Microsoft are planning on using their combined efforts to develop industry standards for network admissions and access control, according to the release.

“A critical component of building the Cisco Self-Defending Network is industry collaboration,” John Chambers, chief executive officer for Cisco, said in a statement. “Security is not an island.”

An interview on Cisco’s Web site with senior-level executives of both companies said they’ll share application programming interfaces (APIs) and protocols between NAC and NAP, but didn’t say if they would also share the technologies themselves.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization & Cloud Review. Follow him on Twitter @VirtReviewKeith.

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