Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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3/6/2009
06:20 PM
David Berlind
David Berlind
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Interop Insider #2 (MP3): Cisco Offers Email Security In The Cloud

In this, my second installment of Interop Insider, Cisco e-mail security group product manager Nick Edwards explains the company's newest foray into the cloud -- that of reproducing the e-mail security functionality found in the company's IronPort appliances as a cloud-based service offering. With Interop in Las Vegas just around the corner, I'll be publishing an entire series of Interop Insiders (each with a write-up and podcast interview) to give you an ide

In this, my second installment of Interop Insider, Cisco e-mail security group product manager Nick Edwards explains the company's newest foray into the cloud -- that of reproducing the e-mail security functionality found in the company's IronPort appliances as a cloud-based service offering. With Interop in Las Vegas just around the corner, I'll be publishing an entire series of Interop Insiders (each with a write-up and podcast interview) to give you an idea of what can be found at the show.Cisco's Ironport Group Product Manager Nick EdwardsCisco is, of course, no stranger to the cloud. We sometimes forget that one of the original cloud-based companies -- WebEx -- is a part of Cisco.

But as Edwards explains in this podcast interview, Cisco has other cloud moves up its sleeve, and one of those moves is to re-create all of the IronPort e-mail security functionality in the cloud. As Edwards put it, organizations can choose from one of three approaches offered by Cisco: to go solely with IronPort appliances on premises, to go solely with the IronPort functionality in the cloud, or to take a hybrid approach. You can listen to the interview by pressing the play button below.

Listen to my interview with Cisco's Nick Edwards about the new cloud-based offering.

One reason Edwards thinks this makes sense is because all of the anti-spam and malware-stripping work gets done before the e-mail even enters the enterprise network. In other words, should you subscribe to the service, all of your inbound e-mail makes a pit stop in Cisco's IronPort Cloud where it gets scrubbed down for nefarious activity before it ever comes close to your firewall.

The idea isn't new. Webroot has offered a similar cloud-based service for some time. Another interesting twist to Cisco's offering that you don't see too often is that the cloud-based service costs 25% to 30% more to organizations than taking ownership of an IronPort e-mail security appliance instead. Edwards estimates that the cost for a 5,000-person company to use the cloud-based service will come in at around $13 per user per year.

One reason is that Cisco hasn't gone to the trouble of reengineering its e-mail security appliance into a scalable multitenant system, the costs of which can be spread across many Cisco customers. Instead, if you end up subscribing to Cisco's service, the company takes some of its IronPort appliances off the shelves, puts them in its data centers, and runs them on your behalf. Edwards says that customers were nervous about the idea of running e-mail security on an infrastructure that's shared with other companies. I'm not so sure given how much other data (e.g., customer data at Salesforce.com) has been entrusted to such other multitenant systems.

As you will hear in the podcast, the "hybrid" approach (where some is done in the cloud and some is done on premises) is a big part of Cisco's message here. This allows customers to do the e-mail cleansing in the cloud, but the other e-mail security functions (e.g., data retention) on premises. Also, the IronPort reporting functionality that network managers would use to keep an eye on the overall health of the IronPort appliances works across both the on- and off-premises devices.

In the interview, Edwards also confirms that for each appliance that Cisco runs on behalf of customer in its main data center, it has one on standby in a redundant data center in the event that the main data center experiences a catastrophic problem.

Another subject we cover is the thorny problem of e-mail encryption. Edwards talks about how, with Cisco's products, it's easier to carry on a fully encrypted e-mail dialog, even if the recipient of a Cisco-encrypted message doesn't have Cisco's gear to help decrypt it. It's a step in the right direction. But I encourage you to listen to the podcast because it's not as perfect a world as Cisco might lead you to believe.

If you're going to Interop and want to check out the IronPort solutions (both appliance and cloud-based), my friends over on the Interop side of the company tell me that Cisco will be at booth 1719.

David Berlind is an editor-at-large with InformationWeek. David likes to write about emerging tech, new and social media, mobile tech, and things that go wrong. He can be reached at dberlind@techweb.com and you can also find him on Twitter and other social networks (see the list below). David doesn't own any tech stocks. But, if he did, he'd probably buy some Salesforce.com and Amazon, given his belief in the principles of cloud computing and his hope that the stock market can't get much worse. Also, if you're an out-of-work IT professional or someone involved in the business of compliance, he wants to hear from you.

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