Microsoft and Cisco have finally demonstrated how their network access security products will work together after two years of efforts.

Outlined at the Security Standard Conference in Boston, the two companies also announced a beta program for certain customers who want to test the new products, alongside a technical white paper that describes how the two companies' different approaches interoperate for security policy enforcement and health assessment.

Cisco and Microsoft have both developed their own sets of protocols and technologies to control which devices are allowed to connect with corporate networks. Called Network Admission Control (NAC) by Cisco and Network Access Protection (NAP) by Microsoft, these products are designed, for example, to prevent virus-laden laptops and remote PCs from connecting behind the firewall and infecting other systems on the network.

The companies have been promising to work together on NAC and NAP since October 2004 and that work is finally beginning to bear fruit, said Bob Gleichauf, chief technology officer for Cisco's security networking group. "We've really sent a clear message here: 'Damn, they finally have figured out how to do something together'," he said. "The industry needed to see that."

Microsoft and Cisco have also signed a cross-licensing deal that would allow Cisco to develop NAP products and Microsoft to develop NAC products at some point in the future, Gleichauf said.

Since the interoperability plans were first announced, Cisco and Microsoft haven't said much about how the work was progressing, causing some customers to wonder about when and if the work would be completed, analysts said.

"It took them a long time to get here, and I think the biggest problem they had was due to the fact that they weren't telling anybody [what was going on]," said Robert Whiteley, a senior analyst with Forrester.

Cisco has written software for the NAP Agent component of Windows Vista that will allow Vista clients to work with Cisco's NAC products, but full interoperability between the two platforms will not occur until Microsoft ships its next-generation Longhorn server software, said Mike Schutz, a product manager with Microsoft's infrastructure marketing group. "The last piece of the puzzle will be when Longhorn server ships in the second half of 2007," he said.