How Cisco Copes With the BYOD Movement

Cisco Systems Inc. is one of the biggest IT companies in the world, with a disciplined organization.

But even after it standardized on Windows for its desktops earlier this decade, staff stubbornly brought in devices running other operating systems.

The lesson, attendees at a Toronto telecommunications conference learned Thursday, is that even Cisco couldn't resist the bring-your-own device movement.

Ian Gallagher, Cisco Canada's director of collaboration engineering, said that in 1999 the network equipment maker standardized on Windows, but three years later there was "a grass roots movement" within software development teams who wanted to use some variety of Unix because they compile emulators for Cisco's Unix-based IOS routers and switches.

So, without IT approval, there was an "explosion" of SUSE Linux and Apple Macintosh-bases PCs. These users were self-supported, but eventually the company's IT department agreed to support new platforms.

Similarly, despite designating the Palm Treo as Cisco's official smart phone, users brought in other handsets.

"But," Gallagher added, "they (IT) has been very careful to simplify what they support. They say this is the functionality we support on this device -- whether it's a smart phone or a tablet or a non-Windows-based laptop. We'll provide you with a virtual desktop interface, with certain key software capabilities [such as Cisco's Jabber softphone], but as an end user you've got to support other stuff." Anything corporate the company supports.

The BYOD movement is hard to resist, Gallagher said, in part because younger staff is at ease using certain tools and believe they need them to get their work done.

But it helps to have policies and networks to ensure end-to-end security, along with desktop virtualization to help simplify IT's job in supporting various devices.

Loss of control is what IT managers fear most in allowing staff to bring their own devices, Gallagher said in an interview. That can be remedied by setting out exactly what the organization wants control of, then looking for the tools and network architecture that allows them to meet those targets.

"When we say flat out 'just use any device,' we don't do that at Cisco," he added. "We have guest access and we have areas where you can use absolutely any device. But as an employee if you want to use certain services you do under certain circumstances have to use a limited set of devices" that meet the company's security standards.

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