Cisco OfficeExtend Platform Targets Connectivity for Teleworkers

Cisco in May will launch its OfficeExtend platform, which is designed to make telecommuting easier and more secure for both the teleworker and the company.

Cisco Systems officials, who have been vocal about the issues surrounding the rapidly growing telecommuting trend, are unveiling new products designed to increase the manageability and security around teleworkers who want to wirelessly connect to their companies' networks.

Cisco on March 21 introduced its OfficeExtend solution, which includes new access points and wireless controllers-including a dual-band 802.11n access point designed for teleworkers-that will start shipping in May. The new offerings are part of Cisco's larger Borderless Network initiative, which aims to enable network connectivity from any device at any time from any location.

The new products come at a time when a greater percentage of employees are working out of the office, either telecommuting from home or on the road. The proliferation of mobile devices, cloud-computing architectures and the push by companies to drive down costs are helping to fuel the trend, which analysts say is gaining steam. Some market research firms have said that currently as much as 40 percent of information workers in the United States work from home at least part time.

In addition, Cisco's own look at the market indicates that trend will only go up. In a workplace study released in October 2010, Cisco found that three of five workers worldwide say they don't need to be in an office to be productive, and that some would choose lower-paying jobs if it meant greater flexibility in where they could work.

In addition, two out of every three of the 2,000 workers surveyed say their IT staffs should allow them to use any device-whether personal or issued by the company-to access corporate networks, applications and information.

In an interview with eWEEK, Sylvia Hooks, senior manager of mobile marketing at Cisco, said the vendor's OfficeExtend platform enables IT staffs to "extend the same network found inside the company's office into the teleworker's home."

The products make it easier for employees to work outside of the office, while enabling IT staffs to ensure the same type of security and manageability for teleworkers that are found within the company's walls, Hooks said. Some of the key hurdles to telecommuting-from complicated setups in the house to security issues to remote management, are addressed by the platform, Hooks said.

The key is that products within the OfficeExtend platform are enterprise-level, she said.

"We're not using consumer-grade appliances and trying to band-aid [a] work-at-home [solution]," Hooks said.

For example, Cisco's Aironet 600 Series OfficeExtend access points are designed to let teleworkers use separate SSIDs (Service Set Identifiers) to separate corporate and personal network traffic. Hooks said it was the first dual-band 802.11n offering, supporting both a 2.4GHz radio band for home network traffic and a 5GHz band for corporate traffic. There also are four Ethernet ports for connecting such network devices as IP phones and printers.

The Catalyst 6500 Series Wireless Services Module chassis supports up to 500 corporate and teleworking access points, enabling easy scalability of wireless LANs for businesses as the number of mobile devices running rich-media applications like video conferencing and virtual desktops and accessing the network increases. The chassis also supports such Cisco technology as CleanAir for managing interference, VideoStream multicast video over wireless networks and ClientLink to boost client performance.

In addition, Cisco's 2500 Series Wireless Controllers and software for the vendor's ISR G2 Services-Ready Engine offer smaller networks 802.11n service for up to 50 access points and 500 clients.