Cisco, IPass offer separate routes to secure and easy mobile access

Cisco offers Secure Services Client 4.0; IPass unveils Virtual Office

Focusing on ways to simplify and secure network access for all kinds of mobile users, two vendors separately announced a new software product and a new service this week.

Cisco Systems Inc. today announced software designed to give users a uniform client interface for connecting securely from a Windows laptop or PC to a wired or wireless LAN from the office, home or while on the road.

In a separate announcement, IPass Inc. in Redwood Shores, Calif., yesterday announced a new service, IPass Virtual Office, which gives mobile users equipped with a variety of devices access to networks using a universal client.

Based on its June acquisition of Meetinghouse Data Communications, Cisco announced Cisco Secure Services Client 4.0, which represents the next version of Meetinghouse's product, said Ben Gibson, director of mobility solutions marketing at the company. One license per user costs $39 to $60, depending on the number purchased, according to a spokesman.

So far, the new Cisco software works only with Windows desktops and laptops, but it will eventually work with Linux devices as well as handhelds based on Windows CE and Windows Mobile 5.0, Gibson said. Eventually, Palm OS and other operating systems will be added, but Cisco provided no timeline for upcoming support of any of the additional operating systems.

However, the user would need to connect back to a Cisco-based network for the client to function, said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group Research Inc. That means it will probably not work with laptops equipped with wireless broadband data cards or other gear functioning in the wireless wide-area network, he said.

But its functionality is still important because of the wide use of Cisco switches and routers, Kerravala said.

Gibson said the client will improve ease of use in organizations. "The job to manage all the different clients can be rather cumbersome," he said. "It takes up time to manage client security, access and authentication."

Don Williams, director of IT at the Auburn-Washburn Unified School District in Topeka, Kan., said the district has been using the previous version of the Meetinghouse client for more than a year. But the newest Cisco version provides quicker log-ins for users, based on beta tests that have been under way for two weeks, he said.

"It allows us to have any student or teacher log in anywhere and get the same servers and same access to the Internet," Williams explained. There are about 1,600 laptops and desktops used in the nine-school district, which serves about 5,000 students, he said.

The school district also has Cisco data and voice-over-IP equipment and has found the $2,200 annual cost of the Meetinghouse clients to be worth it for the productivity users get, Williams said. He noted one remaining inconvenience: The client will lock out a user for up to 45 seconds if the user inserts an incorrect username. By comparison, the lock-out delay is much shorter if the user inserts a good username and then an incorrect password, Williams said.

In the future, the client will help the school district set controls on virtual LANs, such as when the district wants to restrict access to only a few parts of the network for a person who brings a laptop from home, Williams said.

Meanwhile, the IPass Virtual Office service combines IPass' Mobile Office service for access via dial-up, 3G cellular and Wi-Fi with home-based Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) access through iPass's purchase of GoRemote Internet Communications Inc. in February, a spokeswoman said. The combined service is priced at $105 per month, per user.

In addition, IPass announced a new Device Lockdown service to automatically scan and update authorized devices before they are allowed full Internet access, said Anurag Lal, chief business development officer at IPass.

Mobius Management Systems Inc. is reviewing the new Virtual Office service after having been an IPass customer for nearly six years, said Dan Feeley, director of network services at the provider of content management products in Rye, N.Y.

"It appears that the support, control and billing are all wrapped up in one package," Feeley said. "It would make sense for us."

About 450 employees have access to the IPass service today, he said. Mobius provides some access features itself that it has decided to roll into IPass access services "just to keep the user's experience more consistent." He said the IPass client functionality is "superb," although he said support can be complicated when something goes wrong, because detailed access logs from a user have to be sent to the IPass support desk.

A centralized and secure access method for mobile users may be a way for a large company to drive down costs, said Eric Paulak, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in comments at a recent Gartner conference. But some IT shops are reluctant to identify those costs in a single place, because IT might have to bear the cost, he said. Today, many companies support user access costs in separate departments, but aggregating the costs might help a company push vendors for lower prices, Paulak noted.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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