Cisco Launches Green Suite For Remote Workers

Cisco Systems on Tuesday unveiled a new solution for remote workforces that the network giant said not only eases working from home, but has the potential to dramatically reduce corporate carbon emissions in the process.

The Cisco Virtual Office (CVO) ties together routing, switching, security, wireless, IP telephony and policy control into a centrally-managed remote solution for secure video, voice, data and wireless service.

And San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco is stepping up to eat its own dog food. It has deploying its new CVO solution to more than 12,000 of the company's own teleworkers in 70 countries, as part of CEO and chairman John Chambers' bid to have Cisco itself cut its carbon emissions by 25 percent over the next four years. Cisco expects 20,000 employees to use CVO by 2009 and 30,000 by 2010.

Within Cisco, 85 percent of global employees spend time working from home, averaging 24 percent of their work time from home. Overall, users gain 2.75 productive work hours per week from reduced commuting time and ultimately avoid an average of 36.4 commuting miles per day, or avoiding nearly 64 million driving miles per year.

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For companies deploying the CVO, it consists of a Cisco 800 Series Integrated Services Router and a Cisco Unified IP Phone 7900 Series at the remote site. To run the system at the head-end site, a Cisco 7200 series VPN aggregation router, Cisco Security Manager, Cisco Secure ACS and a configuration engine are deployed. The system starts at about $700 per seat.

Mick Scully, vice president of product management for Cisco's security technology group, said tying together the solution brings the look and feel of the office to employees who work from home all within a highly secure architecture, giving them access to voice, data and video services they come to expect in an office setting.

It also can help companies realize a green initiative, but cutting carbon emissions from having workers commute and travel for meetings.

"Every large corporation across the globe is looking at green," Scully said, adding that a green initiative makes not only good economic sense for a company, but it also shows a level of environmental responsibility.

Bob Berlin, director of product management for Cisco's network security division, agreed.

"This is truly a Cisco on Cisco story," he said. "We needed something more elegant to service employees all over the world."

CVO evolved out of its Enterprise Class Teleworker (ECT) solution. ECT enabled employees to work from home and have the access to the same applications, phone calls and collaboration tools that they had in the office in a secure environment. With the success of ECT, it dawned on Cisco that other organizations, outside of Cisco itself, could benefit from a solution. There the CVO was born.

"We should move ahead and put a productization around this solution and market it," Berlin said.

NEXT: Solution Providers Weigh In

CVO gives the same functionality at home as it does in the office. If a user has a laptop and a VoIP phone on their desk, they can take that laptop home, plug the computer into the Ethernet jack there and be back on the corporate LAN experiencing the same services.

What makes CVO secure, Scully said, is that it features an "always on VPN tunnel," meaning the user at home doesn't have to tunnel in each time they sign on. The always on VPN expands corporate security to the home and extends threat defenses. Along with the multi-point VPN, the CVO locks down security through enabling an integrated firewall, split tunneling, content filtering, authentication and policy configuration.

Berlin added that CVO enables zero touch deployment, meaning a user takes or is sent a router and phone, plugs them in and it auto configures; synchronizing with headquarters and downloading pre-configured firmware.

"The whole point of this is an organization's need for rapid deployment," Berlin said. "The secret sauce is software at the head-end site."

For channel partners, Berlin said, it opens the door for planning, design and implementation services, along with remote management and security optimization offerings.

"It allows the channel to have a different kind of conversation about it," he said.

Aamir Lakhani, senior consulting engineer with WorldWide Technologies, a St. Louis-based solution provider, said CVO comes at a time when customers are looking for ways to increase their mobile and remote workforces, but a lot of solutions don't offer access to all services or aren't secure enough.

"This will let them create a true mobile workforce with data, voice and video services," he said.

For most customers, Lakhani said, creating a remote workforce is stemming from both environmental and cost concerns. High gas prices, traffic and the loss of productivity created by a long commute are frustrating workers and their organizations.

"These are concerns employees are bringing up to their companies," he said. "These are real pain points."

And with going green reaching buzzword status, partners will benefit by offering CVO as a solution to reduce carbon emissions.

"It's something customers are already looking for," he said. "When users have all of these services at home it saves the company on several levels."

Solutions like CVO also open up a new realm of services for solution providers, Lakhani said. While the router installed in the home is essentially zero touch, the back end system feeding the services to remote sites and the planning phase of creating a remote working plan will require guidance from VARs.

"It will take initial planning on how to push this out," he said. "There are planning and design opportunities. And once it's rolled out we can concentrate more on brining them advanced services. We see more advanced services to come out of this."

Lakhani said Cisco is expected to make CVO available to partners within the next month or so to help with customers' remote working and mobility demands.

"The reality is: the mobile workforce is the next big thing," he said. "IT's not going to be feasible to have all of your employees coming into the office with all of the environmental concerns and how dispersed the workforce has become. This is going to be a reality."