Cisco mobility targets BYOD, mobile virtual desktop

Cisco Systems announced yesterday three pre-tested bundles of products and services designed to cut through the confusing complexity of mobility.

The new Smart Solutions packages are by themselves not new at all: they’re formed of existing Cisco hardware and software, third-party partnerships, and consulting services from Cisco or its partners. But Cisco says they represent a shift in the company’s thinking about how to deploy mobile technology for businesses.

Instead of a grab bag of separate products, the new approach sees mobility, in effect, as a whole that’s greater than the sum of its many parts, including devices, operating systems, apps, Wi-Fi access points, VPNs, authentication, and security. The overarching enterprise benefit, according to Cisco, is summed up in a new term, “Cisco Unified Workspace.”

The unified workspace is what the end user sees through the interplay of these diverse elements, from the handset through the enterprise data centre and all the way to mobile operator core networks. In such a unified workspace, users access data and apps from anywhere at anytime, according to Sujai Hajela, the vice president and general manager of Cisco’s wireless networking business unit.

“Connecting a device to my corporate network is just step one,” he says. “The question is: what happens after that?”

Hajela insists the new Smart Solutions for Unified Workspace are very different from incrementally buying a bunch of separate products, and then trying to integrate them.

“It’s not a question of bundling separate products and marketing them,” he says. “It’s about how to make them simple to use, focusing on the user’s mobile experience, and optimizing that with tested and validated designs.”

The approach could find an increasingly receptive audience among enterprise IT professionals, according to Paul DeBeasi, research vice president for wireless and mobility at Gartner. Last year, he talked with more than 400 enterprises about wireless and mobility issues. In almost every case, the IT groups focused narrowly on mobile devices and mobile device management applications. “The enterprise in future won’t own the [mobile] endpoint,” he says. “Buying devices and an MDM solution is a narrow, tactical solution.”

Instead, he says, enterprises need to see how mobility relates to other parts of the IT infrastructure, the enduser experience, and business priorities. “If someone says ‘we’ll do all Android [mobile] apps with data,’ they have to realize that [decision] impacts network and data security and risk assessment, for example,” he says. “This is a fundamental problem for enterprises.”

The few that have begun to wrestle with that problem are doing so with a cross-department focus, involving business managers and end users with IT, and with a focus on data – which data, where they’re stored, how and when they’re accessed, under what conditions they’re moved, how they’re protected.

Cisco’s packages are “an attempt to bring all this together in an intelligent way, to look at mobility holistically,” DeBeasi says. “Enterprises need a unified framework for deploying mobility coherently, with the various elements that are needed to secure and manage it.”

Cisco offers three “smart solutions,” all of which make use of existing Cisco products and partnerships with third parties. One, for “bring your own device” or BYOD projects, leverages Cisco product changes and MDM partnerships announced in March. A second, for a mobile virtual desktop, leverages Cisco’s Virtualization Experience Infrastructure (VXI) partnership with Citirx unveiled in September 2010. The third, dubbed Remote Expert Smart Solution, leverages the video/audio and presence products that Cisco originally introduced for financial services and retail customer service.

“This takes away all the guess work,” Cisco’s Hajela says. “The solution has already been tried and tested at scale by Cisco.”

But what elements are actually included in each of these collections depends on what the customer already has, and what his goals are, from simple connectivity of employee-owned devices to a full solution encompassing Aironet access points and Catalyst switches, identity management, security and Cisco collaboration applications like WebEx and jabber. “Pricing hinges on these variables,” Hajela says.

The packages are available in June 2012. Right now, they remain words on a Powerpoint-like presentation. Whether they actually represent a new approach by Cisco remains to be seen.

“Cisco needs to show they can deliver all this,” says Gartner’s DeBeasi. “And that customers will validate it. It’s a ‘there’s more to come later’ announcement. But it’s a good beginning.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.

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