Cisco Systems today took a new whack at an old problem: securing the connection from workers' homes to the corporate network.
The Cisco Virtual Office (CVO) packages routing, switching, security, wireless, IP telephony, and policy control technology into a single bundle that can be deployed and managed uniformly, no matter how many employees a company has working from home.
"You get the phone, the router, and everything else you need to work from home, you plug it into your Ethernet port on your DSL or cable modem, and it's immediately like you never left the office," says Marie Hattar, vice president for networking and security solutions at Cisco. "Your work phone rings at home, so callers don't need to know you're not in the office. You have access to all of the same systems and applications that you have in the office."
Security administrators may be skeptical of the new package, having been promised "easy-to-administer" remote client security systems by many vendors over the years. But Cisco is convinced it's got something different this time -- and it's attempting to prove it by deploying the packages to more than 12,000 of its own employees.
Chuck Trent, vice president of IT at Cisco, oversaw the implementation of CVO at employees' homes in a wide variety of geographies. He says the security administration capabilities alone make the package worth considering.
"The integrated security audit, the 'security monitor,' and the [Cisco Security Manager]-based configuration's consistency and management reduce the security concerns of any enterprise tenfold, if applied properly," he said.
CVO offers something called zero-touch setup, which helps eliminate the security errors that end users make when they set up their own home systems, Cisco says. Automated, pre-configured setup allows companies to be certain that their security policies are being followed by home users, the company states.
But CVO doesn't require employees to "lock down" their machines or dedicate them only to corporate access, says Calvin Chai, senior manager of security solutions at Cisco. In fact, the system offers "split tunneling," so that the employee can use corporate connections for business communications and still allow others in the family to surf the Web -- without giving up his or her corporate system password.
At less than $700 per connection, the Cisco package is significantly more expensive than a standard VPN license, but it includes a variety of equipment -- including an IP phone -- that many employees don't have at home, Cisco says. One of the goals of the package is to make it possible for companies to deliver on new "green" policies that allow employees to save money and reduce pollution by working more frequently from home, Hattar says.
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