To cope with the rising tide of iOS devices trying to use Apple's Bonjour discovery protocol on enterprise networks, Cisco recently announced that it is building a Bonjour gateway for its wireless LAN controllers. The company replied to nine follow-up questions after an online webinar for IT professionals about the product.
The gateway is intended to make Bonjour-based technologies like AirPlay and AirPrint better-behaved on enterprise networks. Some webinar attendees came away with some unasked or unanswered questions. Jameson Blandford, a technical marketing engineer with the gateway's product management group, replies via email below. (The webinar reply is available online.)
The behavior of Apple products on corporate networks is an urgent issue for many IT groups. Historically, Apple products used to be relegated to niches in big companies. But with the advent of the iPhone and now the iPad, most large U.S. companies have become Apple customers on a scale never before imagined. These devices use Bonjour, which is Apple's 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.
Apple devices use Bonjour to discover and link with each other, with printers running Apple's AirPrint software, and with devices like the Apple TV box, which acts like an interface between client iOS and OS X devices and flat panel TVs or selected Internet video content providers.
But Bonjour is designed for simple, single networks, not more complex corporate networks that may include scores or hundreds of subnets. It's not routable, and it can generate very heavy amounts of broadcast traffic over big networks with lots of Apple clients and services. A group of higher-education IT managers, part of Educause, recently created a petition asking Apple to make changes in Bonjour and other technologies to address these issues.
Cisco's new code will turn its WLAN controllers 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.
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