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Cisco to unveil Apple Bonjour gateway for enterprise WiFi networks

Cisco joins rivals in giving Apple’s discovery protocol enterprise behaviors

By , Network World
July 23, 2012 05:50 PM ET

Network World - Cisco plans to add code to its wireless LAN controllers to make Apple’s Bonjour-based technologies like AirPlay and AirPrint better behaved on enterprise networks.

BACKGROUND: IT groups petition Apple to ‘fix’ Bonjour protocol

The code will turn the controller into a Bonjour gateway, and couple this with policy-based end user privileges. For users, this will mean that Apple clients will be able to find and access network-attached AirPrint printers, Apple TVs and the like on different subnets, so everything will “just work” as it does on their own home networks.

A second expected result will be a big decrease in the amount of Bonjour-based discovery traffic that today is putting a heavy load on enterprise nets teeming with Apple’s MacBook laptops, iPhones, iPads and more.

Cisco is hosting a Webcast seminar and demonstration of its still-in-development Bonjour Gateway Tuesday, July 24, at 10 a.m. Pacific (1 p.m. Eastern).

The webcast will also present Cisco’s plan to extend one of its existing technologies, called Network Based Application Recognition, to its wireless LAN firmware. For the first time, Cisco WLAN controllers will be able to dissect packets and compare them to a database of about 1,500 application “signatures” to identify a specific application -- such as a video conference versus a Netflix video, or a Skype voice call -- to be prioritized, blocked, or given bandwidth limits, for example.

Bonjour, originally called Rendezvous when introduced in the early 2000’s, is Apple’s latest implementation of “zero configuration networking” or Zeroconf, which is a group of open Layer 2 protocols to automatically and quickly set up an IP network, without having to set up services such as Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, DNS, and DNS Service Directory. (More background is online at a page maintained by Stuart Cheshire, Zeroconf’s pioneer, who was later hired by Apple.)

And in simple home Wi-Fi networks, that’s just what happens: Apple clients broadcast for services, the services identify themselves, and client and service simply connect, paving the way for specific Apple protocols like AirPrint for printers and AirPlay for sharing multimedia among Apple clients via an intervening Apple TV box

But the strengths of Bonjour become problematic in more complex networks, which now can have hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of iPhones and iPads advertising for services, but unable to connect if they’re on separate subnets. And the discovery traffic can, according to some colleges and universities, sometimes hit 90% of the network load. The problems are pressing enough that last week a group of higher education IT managers finalized a petition to Apple, asking for a range of Bonjour, and related, changes to make the protocols better citizens on enterprise networks. [See "IT groups petition Apple to ‘fix’ Bonjour protocol"]

Cisco is the third WLAN vendor to address these issues with a Bonjour gateway. Aerohive this week announced the release of HiveOS 5.1 and HiveManager 5.1, which now include its Bonjour gateway, first announced in March. Rival Aruba Networks announced a similar capability, also in March, and is expected to release it before the end of 2012.

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