Three years ago, Cisco came up with a study that found three major trends that have been shaping the industry, namely mobility, video and cloud. By 2015 it is believed that 15 billion devices will be connected to the Internet. Cisco is confident of this because a good number of people in Africa have about two devices while the West has four to five devices per person. In 2015, smartphones are expected to cost below US $30, with such devices going as low as US $75. In three years, we have also gone from no tablet to the iPad 3, and Galaxy Note 10.1.
According to Nabil Badr, Business Development Manager for Borderless Network Architecture for Cisco Africa which comprises of almost all components of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), Video has also grown in the last five years thus shaping how we work and live. Cisco expects 82 percent of all its Internet traffi c in the next couple of years. Normal corporates should be hit by 50 to 60 percent traffic in the next two years.
Rather than focusing on business priorities through technology, IT Directors have been focusing on troubleshooting their networks due to resource challenges. "Customers are therefore thinking of moving things to the cloud. At Cisco, we use WebEx and Salesforce.com for our sales management tools," says Badr.
The three "megatrends" however faced roadblocks before the BYOD trend. The device was a roadblock, with several employers dictating what devices could be used. Application and location was a roadblock as employees had to go to the office to use certain applications. Such roadblocks have now disappeared. Employees can connect to business applications from a restaurant, hence borders disappearing. "Three years ago we decided that everything that we build at Cisco will be borderless. If you want any kind of device, we will get it secured and we will give you possibility of mixing your work with your life experience. This is why we have called the architecture as borderless," says Badr.
Cisco's products that are part of borderless networks include wireless, switching platforms, routing technologies, security technologies, application acceleration technologies and network management. All products within this technology are built to support a borderless approach.
With all this trends, security becomes a major challenge. A company may be concerned that employees may take away company data in their devices. While Cisco allows employees to use their own devices, the company takes over control of employee devices as security option. If a device is lost or the employee's contract terminated, all corporate data on the device is erased.
Cisco has a product known as the Identity Services Engine (ISE) which provides the technology team with visibility of mobile devices. ISE shows who from the organisation is connected to the network using what device, when, where and how. "ISE can show what Android version I am using, if I am connected through 3G or the company's WiFi and what application I am using. Visibility and control is very important and if the CIO does not have full visibility and control, there is a challenge there" he says.
Cisco also has a solution known as ScanSafe which scans all traffi c that is headed to the network, thus eliminating threats including spam and malicious applications. Companies can also deploy various layers of mobile device accessibility to a network. A bank would be paranoid with providing their employees with mobile devices as compared to fast moving consumer goods.
Badr recommends a phased approach by starting with providing basic functionality and customisation access per user per device. A bank teller can have accessibility to only a certain app, with no critical data if connected via 3G. "Give accessibility to each person according to their role in the company, with the CXO having full access and newly hired guys getting basic accessibility," he says.
For security on mobile devices, Cisco has the AnyConnect application on the Android and App Store which provide VPN connectivity and enforces applications on the device according to company policy. A device that say does not have the latest version of a certain application such as the antivirus may be denied access.
While employees may have fear of espionage on BYOD, Badr says that this depends on what policies the employee agreed on. However, most corporates only monitor their corporate assets and does not monitor employ SMS. Monitoring shows the type of device, the kind of connectivity and presence of security threats. When the device is wiped, company data and intranet accessibility is blocked without affecting personal data.
So far, by embracing BYOD, Badr says that Cisco saved US $25 million in 2011 by employees rejecting devices that the company was going to buy for them such as BlackBerry and PCs for Macs. Companies should however be aware of the challenge in terms of IT resources for supporting BYOD trends. BYOD savings are more from operation expenditure than capital expenditure due to IT resources. "If you want to bring your own device there are wikis, but we do not provide support to your personal devices.
You have freedom to access your own applications but you support yourself. The only thing we do is have internal communities for BYOD users and each will post and have their own solutions, There also exists another challenge in building applications to support all the devices. Cisco, as a technology vendor builds their applications to support all platforms.
Most other vendors also have mobile versions of applications which link to corporate applications. For companies that build their own applications in house, support is dependent on flexibility. Badr however says that most corporates build applications to last for several years hence having an all mobile version of their applications.
Cisco is also building its products to match market trends. Cisco's new access points come with Clean Air technology which detects frequency interference due to the high number of devices using 2.4 GHz. Interference such as from a microwave can easily jam or drop signals. Clean Air technology chipsets on access points then change channels to avoid the interference.
The company also has beam forming technology on some of its routers which detects those receiving weak signals and forms a direct "beam" to provide such users with a strong signal. Video streaming chipsets provide good video experience on certain routers.
Cisco has also come up with intelligent switches that can take decisions based on a company's security policies. For conferences and other areas where access points keep failing, Badr says such issues arise when the access point cannot meet the number of requests for connectivity.
Cisco provides access points that can detect higher loads and transfer them to points with lower loads. Cisco has a tool known as Smart business Architecture, where depending on the industry; users can download designs and deploy guides for best practices on infrastructure such as IPv6, switching platforms all at no cost. Cisco Validated Designs are provided via partners and show where to start and the ending point when deploying a technology, such as BYOD.