The Potential Pitfalls of Cisco ISE Licensing

What does Cisco ISE licensing look like?

Cisco Identity Services Engine (ISE) licensing is structured around enabling various features and capabilities within the ISE platform, which is a comprehensive security policy management and control solution. It provides the ability to see and control users and devices connecting across your entire network infrastructure. Cisco ISE offers a wide range of functionalities including secure network access, profiling, posture, guest management, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) support, and more.

Cisco ISE licensing is modular, allowing organizations to purchase the specific types of licenses that meet their needs. The licensing model has evolved over time, so it's important to consult the latest Cisco documentation or a Cisco sales representative for the most current information. However, as of my last update, the licensing could be broadly categorized as follows:

1. Base License

  • Network Access Control (NAC): Provides the ability to enforce access policies on endpoints, controlling which devices are allowed to connect to the network.
  • Guest Access: Supports guest management capabilities, allowing visitors to access the internet or limited network resources.
  • Link Encryption (TrustSec): Facilitates secure communication between devices on the network.

2. Plus License

  • Advanced Endpoint Context: Offers enhanced visibility into the devices connecting to the network, including profiling and endpoint protection service integration.
  • BYOD Support: Provides tools and workflows necessary to support a Bring Your Own Device policy, including device registration and device compliance checks.

3. Apex License

  • Posture Assessment: Enables the evaluation of devices to ensure they comply with security policies before granting them access to the network. This can include checking for antivirus software, system updates, and more.
  • MDM/EMM Integration: Integrates with Mobile Device Management (MDM) and Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) solutions for comprehensive device management capabilities.
  • VPN Access: Supports secure remote access through VPNs, applying consistent policy enforcement regardless of user location.

4. Device Administration License

  • Specifically for TACACS+ (Terminal Access Controller Access-Control System Plus), this license enables device administration, allowing for centralized control over who can access network devices and what commands they can execute.

Licensing Models

  • Perpetual Licensing: You pay a one-time fee to use the software indefinitely.
  • Subscription Licensing: Offers access to the software and support for a specific period. This model may include options for different terms (e.g., 1-year, 3-year, 5-year subscriptions).

Deployment Options

  • Physical Appliances
  • Virtual Appliances
  • Cloud Services

How to Purchase

Licensing can be complex, and Cisco often updates its models to reflect new features and market demands. It's recommended to contact a Cisco sales representative or a certified partner for the most accurate and tailored advice, including potential bundles, promotions, or discounts that may apply to your situation.

Remember, the specifics of Cisco ISE licensing, including costs and the exact features included with each license type, can change. Always refer to the latest official Cisco documentation or contact Cisco directly for the most current information.

Is Cisco ISE licensing perpetual or subscription-based?

Cisco Identity Services Engine (ISE) offers both perpetual and subscription-based licensing options, allowing organizations to choose the model that best fits their budgeting and operational needs. Here's a brief overview of both types:

Perpetual Licensing

  • Perpetual licenses mean that once you purchase the license, you own it indefinitely for the version of Cisco ISE you have deployed. You pay a one-time fee and can use the license forever.
  • However, while the license itself does not expire, access to software updates, support, and maintenance services typically requires an additional, ongoing subscription to Cisco's Software Support Service (SWSS). This means that while you can continue using your version of ISE without additional license fees, you might need to pay for SWSS to keep the software up to date and to receive technical support.

Subscription Licensing

  • Subscription licenses are paid for on a recurring basis and are valid for a set term, such as 1, 3, or 5 years. This model includes not only the use of the software but also access to software updates, support, and sometimes additional cloud-based features that might not be available with perpetual licenses.
  • Subscription licensing can offer more flexibility and lower upfront costs compared to perpetual licenses. It also ensures that you always have access to the latest software versions and support from Cisco.

Choosing the Right Model

The choice between perpetual and subscription licensing depends on several factors, including budget considerations, the need for flexibility in scaling up or down, and the desire to always have access to the latest features and updates. Subscription models can be more cost-effective in the short term and offer the advantage of including ongoing support and updates. Perpetual licenses might appeal more to organizations that prefer a one-time capital expenditure and have a stable, long-term need for the product, although they need to consider the additional cost for SWSS to keep the software supported and updated.

Given the evolving nature of Cisco's licensing models and the introduction of new features and services, it's important to consult with Cisco or a certified Cisco partner to get the most current information and tailored advice for your specific situation. They can provide insights into the total cost of ownership (TCO) for each licensing model over your expected usage period and help you understand the implications of each option for your organization's needs.

Are there potential hidden costs to Cisco ISE licensing?

When considering Cisco Identity Services Engine (ISE) licensing, it's important to be aware of potential hidden or additional costs that might not be immediately obvious. These costs can affect the total cost of ownership (TCO) and should be factored into your budgeting and planning processes. Here are several areas where additional costs might arise:

1. Software Support and Subscription Services

  • Support Contracts: Even with perpetual licenses, ongoing support and access to updates typically require an annual subscription to Cisco's Software Support Service (SWSS). This is crucial for receiving technical support and software updates.
  • Subscription Renewals: For subscription-based licenses, keep in mind the renewal costs and potential price increases at the time of renewal.

2. Hardware and Infrastructure

  • Appliance Costs: If you opt for physical appliances, there are costs associated with purchasing the hardware. Additionally, consider the lifecycle of the hardware and potential future upgrades or replacements.
  • Virtual Infrastructure: Deploying ISE on virtual machines can save on physical hardware costs but may require additional investment in virtualization infrastructure, including servers, storage, and network resources.

3. Scaling and Capacity Planning

  • Growth: As your network grows, you may need to purchase additional licenses or upgrade existing licenses to accommodate more endpoints or advanced features.
  • High Availability and Redundancy: Implementing a highly available ISE architecture involves additional instances of ISE for redundancy, which can increase licensing and infrastructure costs.

4. Training and Implementation

  • Professional Services: Depending on the complexity of your deployment, you might need to engage professional services for implementation, which can be a significant cost.
  • Training: Ensuring your team is proficient with Cisco ISE might require training courses or certifications, which are additional expenses.

5. Integration and Customization

  • Third-Party Integrations: Integrating ISE with other security tools or infrastructure components might require additional software or custom development.
  • Customization: Tailoring ISE to fit specific business processes or compliance requirements can also lead to extra costs.

6. Compliance and Auditing

  • Compliance Requirements: Meeting specific industry compliance standards might necessitate additional features or configurations in ISE, potentially incurring further costs.
  • Auditing Tools: Additional tools or modules may be required for comprehensive reporting and auditing capabilities.

Planning Ahead

To mitigate these potential hidden costs:

  • Conduct a thorough needs assessment to understand which features and capacities you require.
  • Plan for growth by considering how your network might expand or change in the future.
  • Engage with Cisco or a certified partner to discuss your specific needs and get a detailed quote that includes not just the licensing costs but also any additional components you might need.
  • Consider Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) over the lifecycle of the product, not just the initial purchase price.

Being aware of these potential hidden costs and planning for them as part of your deployment strategy can help ensure that your investment in Cisco ISE aligns with your organization's budget and security objectives.

What else should buyers beware of with Cisco ISE licensing?

In addition to the potential hidden costs associated with Cisco ISE licensing, there are several other considerations that buyers should be aware of to ensure they make informed decisions and optimize their investment. Here are key points to consider:

1. Licensing Complexity

  • Understanding Licensing Tiers: Cisco ISE licensing is tiered, with different levels offering access to various features. It's crucial to understand the specifics of what each tier offers and what your organization actually needs to avoid overpaying for unnecessary features.
  • Bundling and Discounts: Cisco may offer bundles or discounts for purchasing certain combinations of licenses or for buying through specific channels. It's worth exploring these options to see if they can provide savings.

2. Compatibility and Integration

  • Network Infrastructure Compatibility: Ensure that your current network infrastructure is compatible with Cisco ISE. This includes not only Cisco products but also any third-party devices and software you plan to integrate with ISE.
  • Third-Party Integrations: If your security ecosystem includes products from other vendors, verify how well they integrate with ISE. Poor integration can lead to additional costs for custom solutions or may limit the effectiveness of your security posture.

3. Deployment and Operational Challenges

  • Deployment Complexity: Deploying Cisco ISE can be complex, especially in large or distributed environments. Underestimating the complexity can lead to delays and increased costs for additional consulting or support services.
  • Operational Expertise: Cisco ISE is a powerful tool, but it requires skilled personnel to manage and operate effectively. Consider the costs of training existing staff, hiring new staff with the necessary expertise, or outsourcing management to a third party.

4. Future-Proofing and Scalability

  • Scalability: Consider how your chosen licensing model will accommodate future growth. It's important to select a model that allows you to scale up efficiently without incurring disproportionate costs.
  • Future Features and Upgrades: Technology evolves rapidly, and so do security threats. Consider the roadmap for Cisco ISE and how future updates or features might impact your licensing and operational costs.

5. Compliance and Policy Management

  • Regulatory Compliance: Ensure that the features provided by Cisco ISE meet any specific regulatory compliance needs your organization has. Non-compliance can result in significant fines and damage to reputation.
  • Policy Management: The effectiveness of Cisco ISE depends heavily on the policies you implement. Poorly designed policies can lead to security gaps or operational inefficiencies, undermining the value of your investment.

6. Evaluation and Testing

  • Proof of Concept: Before committing to a purchase, consider conducting a proof of concept (PoC) to evaluate how well Cisco ISE integrates with your environment and meets your specific needs.
  • Performance Benchmarks: Understand the performance benchmarks for Cisco ISE, especially in relation to your network size and traffic volumes, to avoid underestimating the resources required for optimal operation.

Making Informed Decisions

By carefully considering these aspects, organizations can better navigate the complexities of Cisco ISE licensing and ensure that their investment effectively supports their security posture and business objectives. Engaging with Cisco representatives or certified partners can also provide valuable insights and help tailor the solution to your specific needs.