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What Cisco Networking Learned During The Pandemic

Before COVID-19, Cisco averaged between 20,000 and 30,000 daily remote connections from employees working from home. Now that all Cisco employees — like those at most other companies — work remotely, it sees more than 170,000 remote network connections daily across 96 countries and 498 cities.

“That is unprecedented,” said Cisco CIO Jacqui Guichelaar during a virtual roundtable discussion about staying connected and securing networks. “We definitely did not have a plan for that. We do now.”

And all of this had to happen within the span of a few weeks. “What would typically take an IT organization years to plan out and build out … it’s been really challenging for us as a team to figure out how do we scale? How do we start doing it in a systematic way, but in a fast way that we’ve never done before,” Guichelaar said.

In addition to its own employees, more than 1 million customers rely on Cisco to keep their businesses running as they make the needed networking and security adjustments to enable remote workers. And, in some cases like health care and education, these networks need to rapidly scale to account for a massive influx of traffic.

Cisco’s Webex logged more than 12 billion meeting minutes since March 1, said Fran Katsoudas, Cisco’s chief people officer.

“We’re powering telehealth right now for 17,000 health care organizations in 118 countries,” Fran added. “We know that in the past there was a belief that we couldn’t do some of this virtually. And we’re learning that’s not true.”

Cisco’s Approach

Cisco came up with five-pronged approach to enable its employees and partners to work from home. “The first thing was basic connectivity,” Guichelaar said. “What are we doing with out network? Can we split tunnel? Can we have internet traffic going down these pipes and intranet traffic going down these pipes to ease our VPN environment.”

Up next: how to collaborate remotely with coworkers and business teams. Luckily, Cisco has an app for that.

Third: Cisco had to make sure its technical and customer experience organizations continued running smoothly to support its customers globally.

Fourth: are there any special use cases? “And then finally, how do we secure all of that,” Guichelaar said.

Special Use Case: Call Centers

In terms of special use cases, Guichelaar pointed to Cisco’s India call centers as an example. “We had to essentially enable 3,000 call center workers to work remotely,” she said.

This required two things. First, Cisco had to write code to enable this. Cisco is now sharing this code and made it available on DevNet.

Second, in partnership with India’s National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) and its 1,000 software-company members, Cisco and friends asked the Indian government to allow call center employees to work from home, which previously was prohibited. “It’s a regulation in India,” Guichelaar said, adding that changing the law would normally take years to do. “But somehow by joining forces with 1,000 companies out there, with partners in India, as an industry we came together and achieved it in days. In these crisis situations it’s incredible what you can do in days, which normally would take years.”

Staying Secure

When it comes to securing a variety of users, vendors, and contractors, often working from their personal devices and accessing cloud applications not on the corporate network, Gene Hall, Cisco SVP of security marketing, has some specific recommendations.

“To make sure log-in identities and credentials are protected, we recommend multi-factor authentication like Duo Security,” he said. “To allow users to securely access corporate resources on their own devices, we recommend a VPN like Cisco AnyConnect. And for users to securely access internet and cloud resources both on and off the corporate network, we recommend DNS security like Cisco Umbrella. All have free offerings to support our customers through this difficult time.”

Earlier this week Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said his company will commit $225 million to support local and global COVID-19 response efforts. This includes $8 million in cash, $210 million in products, and up to $5 million in grants and funds matching Cisco employees’ donations to nonprofits.

―SDX Central

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