The more I work with Cisco ISE (Identity Services Engine), the more possibilities I see. In my opinion, it is the most exciting Cisco product since UCS. It’s the only product I’ve seen that provides such a high level of flexibility, control, and centralized configuration for network edge access.
With ISE, you can authenticate, profile, and posture any wired or wireless device that connects to your network. Policy is configured in a centralized controller and pushed to clients when they connect to the network. Based on a myriad of identity and profiling criteria, you can apply a vlan, push a DACL, or inject a Security Group Tag for each client. Today, all of that information is used only for security purposes, but think about the possibilities!
What if every packet on your network is tagged with an identifier based on an amalgam of criteria including: user identity, device type, AD group, application flow, etc? Consider the opportunities if each packet is proactively encoded with a handle that distinguishes it based on complex criteria. What if this criteria is centrally managed and abstracted into a structure that allows you to make quick decisions in hardware? It’s reasonable to conclude that not only security decisions, but routing, QOS, and optimization could be configured based on this identity tag in the packet. And, all of this policy can be pushed from a centralized controller into a data plane of your network.
Granted, ISE doesn’t do this today. It provides authentication, authorization, profiling, and posture services and is solely a security tool. However, the potential power of the platform is limitless.
Of course, ISE is a proprietary Cisco solution that only works well in an all Cisco environment. Aside from standard radius authentication, all of the great ISE features are Cisco only. However, if the solution were more open and interoperable with other networking vendors, it could become a huge platform to improve the entire networking industry.
For Cisco, ISE should be a huge component to their long-term strategy for centralized network control, automation, and security. For a vendor that receives a lot of flack that they’re not a software company, ISE is a great software product.