Cisco launched a new product, the 3300 Series Mobility Services Engine, aimed at helping companies open up crucial services to mobile employees without compromising network security. The products helps tie wired and wireless networks together, including typical Ethernet, Wi-Fi, WiMAX, cellular, and RFID.

"Bringing mobile and wired networks together on just an IP basis is one thing. But bringing them together on a security level is another challenge altogether," said Ken Dulaney, a vice president of mobile computing for technology research company Gartner.

Chris Kozup, Senior Manager of Mobility Solutions at Cisco, explained that companies have to address three basic elements in the evolution of their networks: a wave of new devices, the need to unify networks, and to extend applications out to those devices. As a result of these factors, security requirements are changing to more prominently include the network to secure information in addition to network perimeters.

Brent Galloway, Senior Vice President for the Wireless and Security Technology Group at Cisco, said that companies are caught in tension created between keeping the network safe and opening up the network. The architecture of the new platform will allow third-party software to query the network to determine a variety of factors, including who a user is and where that user is, all in a secure way, and will address the wave of new devices as well as the new waves of applications that are coming into use. Galloway said he sees the product as a step towards turning the network inside out, helping to make work something a person does instead of a place someone goes.

Cisco's 3300 Series Mobility Services Engine will include the ability to derive and use information about a mobile user, for example whether they're in a building and if so whether they might be in a conference room, which could indicate that they're in a meeting at the moment. It will also carry the ability help seemlessly hand off communications between different types of networks without dropping the connection, such as might be required when roaming from a wireless VoIP network onto a cellular network. Other features include secure client management, intrusion prevention, and an API that allows third parties to develop specialized applications that interface with the solution.

The appliance, which will become available in June at a list price of just under $20,000, has two quad core Xeon processors, two multifunction gigabit network interfaces, and can track up to 18,000 devices.