Users prefer Cisco NAC over Microsoft NAP, researchers say

Over on Cisco Subnet, there is a long meaty post about how NAC users perceive Cisco as superior to other vendors in the market, including

Microsoft. This comes from a study by Infonetics Research (User Plans for Network Access Control: North America 2008). Infonetics queried 242 IT pros about their NAC plans for the next two years and asked for user perceptions on the big players: Cisco, Juniper, F5, McAfee, Microsoft and Symantec. 162 respondents were NAC users, or planned to be shortly, and 80 had no plans to join the pack on NAC. Cisco scored highest overall, Infonetics says, but it was in close contest with other vendors in a variety of areas. Microsoft was considered a good choice of NAC vendors when it came to its financial security -- as was Cisco -- but that really isn't an accomplishment for Microsoft to crow about. No one thinks either Microsoft or Cisco will be swallowed up in a merger or landing in bankruptcy court in the foreseeable future.

While Microsoft trailed Cisco and other vendors in important areas -- such as perceived technology innovation, the survey points out that Microsoft is improving -- is even gaining on the leader, Cisco. But all and all, it would take a pretty strong pair of rose-colored glasses to see this survey as any kind of real vote of confidence for Microsoft's NAC scheme, Network Access Protection (NAP).

Sadly where Microsoft really failed was in the area most important for a NAC vendor -- security. But this is not so much a statement on Microsoft's technology being less secure as it is a view about Microsoft security in general, says Jeff Wilson, principal analyst, Network Security Infonetics Research.

"One of Microsoft's lowest scores on the scorecard was for security (the other two, tied at the bottom, were service and support and pricing); Microsoft typically comes in low for security, as IT managers responsible for core network security installations don't really think of Microsoft as an enterprise security vendor. Other than financial stability, Microsoft's highest score was for management (though it was still middle of the pack)," Wilson says.

Interestingly, Juniper outscored everyone, including Cisco, in price-to-performance on NAC gear. And because Juniper also came in a close second to Cisco for security, users were clearly giving Juniper a thumbs-up as a NAC vendor.

However, Microsoft isn't trying to become the be-all, end-all NAC provider. Many would claim that Cisco really wants that honor. (Or rather Cisco wants you to buy NAC as part of a giant purchase order that not only gives it your security but also your application performance, phones, videoconferencing, backbone, and so on.) While NAC vendors came into the market with dueling technology schemes, Microsoft has been diligently working on the client piece. This is the area that no other vendor really needs to touch. And why should others do it if Microsoft, who owns most of the enterprise client market, wants to?

For this reason, NAC security consultants such as Joel Snyder contend that the Windows NAP scheme is really just a foundational piece. There's a long list of vendors that offer NAP-compatible appliances. These easily move a customer beyond a simple Windows Server 2008/Windows client deployment. But it could also be one of the reasons why Microsoft scores low on the price/performance piece, even though NAP is included in Windows Server 2008 and Vista.

Still curious? Ask Snyder and Richard Stiennon yourself. They will be dueling it out over NAC in an upcoming Network World event. In fact, we'll plug now ...

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