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Cisco launches Virtual Office for teleworkers; partners await program

The new Cisco Virtual Office promises teleworkers secure, always-on network access, but there is no channel plan yet.

Cisco Systems Inc. unveiled a hardware, software and services package Tuesday called Cisco Virtual Office (CVO) that it says will offer plug-and-play, secure corporate network access for teleworkers.

Cisco is now selling CVO direct and has not yet detailed a channel partner program, though executives say they will do so "in the not-too-distant future."

"We're working on those plans," said Bob Berlin, Cisco's director of product management in the network security division.

Many partners already sell some or all of the hardware involved in the release. Cisco Virtual Office puts a Cisco Unified IP Phone and 800 series Integrated Services Router (ISR) at the remote site, as well as a 7200 series VPN aggregator router with a Cisco Security Manager, Secure Access Control Server and a configuration engine at the headquarters.

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What's new is internally developed software that lets remote users do "zero-touch setup" or call-in configuration. Once the ISR is connected to the Internet, it automatically downloads a configuration that is then recognized by the headquarters. The on-premise 7200 router acts as a platform for VPN, security and policy management.

The plug-and-play aspect of Cisco Virtual Office may attract partners that serve enterprises with a growing number of teleworkers.

"We have successfully supported remote workers before, but this technology is integrated and more current," said John Palley, general manager of ISC Corp., a Cisco partner in Casper, Wyo.

Cisco Virtual Office will eventually be a boon to partners, because it carries with it ongoing services. The Cisco sales team can now sell the hardware for both head-end and remote sites, plus they can sell design, implementation and upkeep services. While the remote sites are no-frills, the headquarter technology requires implementation customization.

"A key part of this announcement is that we have partnered with the customer support organization of Cisco to offer advanced services," Berlin said. "We hope to extend that capability to our channel partners … our advanced services group can't touch every customer in 300 countries around the world." Berlin could not say, however, whether there would be certain geographic regions in which partners could offer these services or if other limitations would be placed on them.

Palley said he had not heard of a specific date from Cisco on when the CVO would be available to the channel, nor could he say whether Cisco had contacted ISC regarding the release. But, he said, he would be surprised if partners weren't pulled in soon.

"It's the right kind of product and its time is now," Palley said. "This is what our business is about: technology solutions."

Joining products and services for a teleworker solution was a way for Cisco to answer customers that routinely ask, "What kind of telecommuting services do you offer?" Berlin said. The package offers a "validated design" so that "we can tell our customers they can implement this with a high degree of quality."

Cisco Virtual Office can be standalone or integrated with unified communications (UC) applications, Berlin said. The company expects to make a number of announcements regarding UC integration in coming months, he said.

Cisco has already implemented CVO in-house, managing nearly 12,000 employees in 70 countries with only two IT staffers, Berlin said, speaking from his own home office Tuesday. Cisco plans to increase its remote workers to 20,000 by 2010.

Cisco Virtual Office will sell at $700 per seat, not including services.

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