Packets of Interest (2012-03-29) – Bonjour

These are some articles/interviews that I came across this week that got me thinking about Apple’s Bonjour in enterprise environments.

Apple’s Bonjour protocol has been getting some attention lately and not because the new iPad was recently released, but more because of the rate of adoption of iDevices in the corporate world.

Bonjour is Apple’s implementation of networking “zeroconf”: a group of protocols and methods for connecting devices to a network with “zero configuration” on the part of the user or the network administrator (Ever seen a 169.254.x.x IP address? That’s one part of zeroconf). The part of Bonjour that is getting attention is the service discovery (SD) piece which allows a consumer (ie, an iPad) to discover providers (ie, printers, Apple TVs, etc) automatically. SD relies on link-local multicast messages to facilitate the discovery. This works great in a flat, Layer 2-only home network (which is where most iDevices have lived until recently) but breaks down in an enterprise network made up of multiple Layer 2 domains. If the consumer device is not in the same Layer 2 domain as the provider device, it will not be able to discover the provider.

The first article I read this week about Bonjour was from IT World Canada: Apple’s Bonjour protocol tamed for enterprise Wi-Fi. They go on to talk about Aruba Networks’ recent announcement of support for the Bonjour protocol (specifically mDNS used for SD) in their wireless LAN controller software.

[Aruba Networks] announced Thursday an update to its WLAN controller software that lets multicast domain name services, like Apple’s Bonjour protocol, work simply and securely but without creating a drag on the network. The new feature is called AirGroup, a reference to Apple’s nomenclature for capabilities like the mobile printing service AirPrint and AirPlay.

The article also mentions Aerohive’s announcement of a controller-less access point that acts as an SD gateway between Layer 2 domains. More information on Aerohive’s announcement is available in their blog post titled Breaking Subnet Boundaries with Bonjour: Simplifying Apple TV and AirPlay in the enterprise.

In designing this feature, we wanted to preserve the plug-and-play nature of Bonjour. We wanted our customers to be able to flip a switch and see services throughout the network. We specifically did NOT want our customers to have to learn a lot about the Bonjour protocol design, how to route and flood multicast frames, and think carefully about how to replicate multicast traffic between VLANs or smoosh devices together on to one Bonjour super-VLAN.

Lastly, the Packet Pushers recently did a podcast with Aerohive where they talk about their upcoming Bonjour gateway product: Show 94 – Aerohive and Bonjour Gateway. It’s worth a listen.

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