Say hello to Cisco’s Apple Bonjour Gateway

Enterprise users can get frustrated trying to access AirPrint or similar services on their wireless devices, but new features in WLAN controllers may ease the acceleration of BYOD

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IT departments may be allowing more consumer devices such as iPads into the workplace, but they need to figure out ways to make them act more like business devices on the corporate network.

In theory, Apple’s Bonjour service should make that possible, by allowing technologies like AirPrint and AirPLay to advertise themselves as available to users of iPads, laptops and other wireless devices. In practice, however, it hasn’t worked that well in enterprise environments, which is why, on Tuesday, Cisco unveiled an Apple Bonjour Gateway that the company said would provide IT managers greater visibility and control around Bonjour services.

Cisco technical marketing manager Jameson Blandford demonstrated the Bonjour Gateway in a Webcast that showed why Bonjour had faced some limitations in the office. “It’s very limited at what it can do on a network level,” he said. “It was built for home networks . . . It doesn’t cross boundaries. It stays in the layer 2 network.”

The end result is that clients on one VLAN can’t see services being advertised on another VLAN. Without being able to cross the subnet boundaries, wireless users just assume they aren’t able to print, for example, and grow frustrated.

Blandford described Cisco’s Bonjour Gateway as a sort of cache or a central services database within the wireless LAN controller. When a user’s iPad sends out a query to a particular VLAN, the network can send a response from the cache on another VLAN. In other words, the Gateway will take Bonjour service advertisements and re-route them on different subnets.

Perhaps more importantly, Blandford said Cisco will offer policy-based control so that, for instance, some users might be allowed to use AirPrint but not AppleTV. That should help start reducing some of the network traffic that gets generated by all the Bonjour service requests coming from the increased flood of consumer products as a result of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs. Cisco will offer policy restrictions per interface group, per WLAN, per VLAN and, in a future release, per user.

It’s going to be critical for IT departments to start exploring tools like Cisco’s Bonjour Gateway as BYOD becomes more common in enterprises and expectations around network access are raised even higher. Otherwise, some valuable employees might soon be saying au revoir.

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