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Microsoft, Cisco Shake on Network Security

In a deal sure to bring smiles to the faces of enterprise security pros, Microsoft and Cisco Systems plan to integrate technologies and push for an industry standard to power network security and health policy compliance.

In recent years, the two firms were heading in different directions, with Cisco pushing its Network Admissions Control (NAC) initiative, which does not interoperate with Microsoft's Network Access Protection (NAP). That meant that companies running hardware and software from the two tech giants were saddled with heavy costs of maintaining incompatible software.

With the latest deal, Microsoft and Cisco said they would shake hands on the sharing of technical details on the two endpoint security initiatives and, more importantly, push for industry standards to handle network admissions and access control arenas.

"This coordinated approach will allow customers to integrate the embedded security capabilities of Cisco's network infrastructure with those of Microsoft's Windows, enabling them to choose components yet implement a single, coordinated solution," the companies said.

The Cisco NAC is seen as the linchpin of the company's self-defending network initiative, which handles compliance tests to limit network damage from viruses and worms. With Cisco NAC, businesses can provide network access to PCs, PDAs, and servers that fully comply with established security policy and deny access to non-compliant devices.

The Cisco features are identical to those offered by Microsoft's Network Access Protection (NAP) platform, which handles policy enforcement for computers and devices connecting to a business network.

The two sides did not provide a timetable for interoperability, but stressed that the partnership will allow customers to integrate the security capabilities of Cisco's network infrastructure with those of Microsoft's Windows.

Microsoft and Cisco already have technology partnerships in several key market segments, including IP Telephony , IPv6 and channel programs for small- and medium-sized businesses.