Cisco, Partners Are Securing Remote Workforces In Face Of COVID-19 Pandemic

"We're in the middle of a crisis and still are experiencing very nice growth in our Cisco Security business, and we're just getting started," says one Cisco partner whose security business boomed as customers sought remote access solutions at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak.


Cisco Systems has been coming to the aid of partners and customers in the midst of the global COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic with free access to its security and collaboration technology. But as the outbreak ramped up and began forcing businesses to close their offices, remote working seemed to be coming at the price of security.

"As employees started to work remotely, using their own devices and maybe even bypassing the VPN, it drove a loss in visibility and detection capabilities for employees that had been on the company network,” John Maynard, Cisco's vice president of global security sales, told CRN.

Many businesses went from having about 80 percent of their meetings face-to-face to virtualizing all of their communications almost overnight, said Darrin Nelson, senior vice president of digital, data and security business development for Sirius Computer Solutions, a Cisco Gold partner.

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"That all had to change for these businesses to survive," Nelson said. "Businesses first and foremost had to be able to support a remote workforce and figure out how to keep the lights on. And then they had to be able to secure everything."

San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco, alongside its channel partners, had to help both global enterprise customers, as well as small business customers, move hundreds of thousands of employees move into a secure home working environment. And for the customers on the front lines that weren't moving business offsite, such as hospitals and emergency clinics, they needed help scaling very quickly.

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As a starting point, Cisco in March extended free licenses and expanded usage counts at no extra charge for three of its security technologies -- Cisco Umbrella, Cisco's Duo Security offering, and Cisco AnyConnect Secure Mobility Client -- to boost visibility to now even more geographically-dispersed businesses.

Cisco's AnyConnect VPN solution has been particularly sought after to enable remote connectivity, Maynard said. The offering requires firewall infrastructure to build from, for which Cisco provided discounts to its customers. "We saw significant requests to build out infrastructure and get access to VPN capacity to enable access at scale globally," he said. After connecting, customers have had to protect themselves from VPN account takeover using Cisco's Duo Security multi-factor authentication capability.

The new realities of the coronavirus outbreak have prompted some businesses to take on a more de-centralized security posture, and this is where Cisco Umbrella DNS protection is coming in, Maynard said. "We can protect against rogue access to internet sites, or against malicious software trying to communicate to control servers," he said.

Cisco so far has protected more than 15.3 million users from a security perspective and has helped many businesses scale up their security environments very quickly, Maynard said.

Sirius Computer Solutions based in San Antonio, Texas, noticed an almost immediate uptick in its Cisco Security practice in March.

"We're in the middle of a crisis and still are experiencing very nice growth in our Cisco Security business, and we're just getting started," Sirius' Nelson said.

Cisco also in March expanded the capabilities on its free Webex offer in all countries where it is available, which include unlimited usage or no time restrictions and support for up to 100 participants. Cisco right now is providing free 90-day licenses to businesses who are not Webex customers through its sales team and Cisco partners. Webex offers built-in encryption to protect users working from different locations, Cisco said.

Cisco has seen a "dramatic" increase in its collaboration and security portfolios from a partner perspective, said Steve Benvenuto, senior director of global security partner sales for Cisco.

The coronavirus crisis has proven to be a very new challenge for customers who had to change rapidly, but the concept isn't new to the channel, Benvenuto said. While partners have been busy helping solve customer issues related to remote working and expanding usage of certain technologies, partners are now eyeing long-term opportunities, he said.

"The channel is going to be working with their customers through consulting services to fundamentally re-architect their environments," Benvenuto said.

To help the channel, Cisco announced it is extending the deadlines for its Cisco Certified Partners to renew their statuses, Cisco's Channel Chief Oliver Tuszik said in March.

The tech giant earlier this month launched its Business Resiliency Program to extend $2.5 billion in financing to help businesses invest in the IT solutions they need to keep their businesses running and productive during these unprecedented financial times, Cisco said.