Business Continuity Planning Today

How Cisco is enabling its business and “work from home” in light of COVID-19
Mar 16, 2020 2:00 PM ET

Cisco Blogs | COVID-19

We are living in uncertain times with the recent threat of a global pandemic in our midst. Every business is struggling with how to keep their businesses running while keeping their employees and customers safe. Companies are putting in drastic measures such as canceling events, eliminating business travel and in-person meetings, and having employees work from home. Cisco is actively dealing with these topics, and I wanted to share some of the practices we are putting into place to address business continuity in the short and long term. We are all struggling with the same issues, and I wanted to start the conversation so we can work through this together.

Business continuity of our customers and partners is our priority in this unprecedented time. We are donating video conferencing and networking solutions to medical facilities and doctors on the front lines. We expanded the capabilities on our free Webex offer in all countries where it is available. We are giving free new or expanded licenses to Cisco Umbrella, Duo, and Anyconnect security products. We are working through how to enable remote work most effectively, while keeping safety at the forefront.

I recently spoke with Bailey Szeto, VP of Cisco IT, about Cisco’s approach to business continuity planning, and how Cisco IT is responding.

His team has been actively investigating what it would take to provide work from home capability for the entire company in the case of a global pandemic. The thinking on business continuity is evolving from localized, data-centric strategies to a fully global view of what it takes to keep businesses running virtually.

Cisco IT took a broad view of global remote access for our employees and developed a four-layer framework to put the business and IT capabilities in place. The four layers are:

  • Providing base level Virtual Private Network (VPN) connectivity
  • Ensuring that basic collaboration tools such as e-mail, Webex, voice, instant messaging are functional and reliable
  • Determining appropriate access to critical applications, function by function in areas such as engineering, sales, and Customer Experience (CX)
  • Investigating connectivity for key CX partners into Customer Service and Technical Assistance Centers

Bailey gave us a closer look at each of these areas:

Basic connectivity – VPN
VPN expansion started recently due to the need to support employees working from home in the Asia Pacific, Japan and China region, and we expanded capacity (bandwidth, IP pools, etc.). In Europe, Middle East and Africa, overall capacity is good, but needs additional resiliency. In the Americas, we are increasing resources at our U.S. campus in Research Triangle Park, NC. VPN access points can also be set to automatically redirect and globally distribute traffic as needed.

The team is also looking at a configuration change called “split tunneling” to optimize traffic. Currently all traffic comes back to Cisco while connected via VPN. For known good internet connected services, such as Office 365, Webex and Salesforce, we can send that traffic directly through the internet without the need for it to come to Cisco first. We are working with Infosec for investigation and approvals.

Basic collaboration

  • Webex Meetings – A lot of traffic goes back and forth between Cisco and Webex. Beyond the standard Webex meeting traffic, Webex leverages Cisco’s call control infrastructure. Currently we are only using about 12% of our total capacity between Cisco and Webex. If needed we also have agreements to increase our interconnects by using additional bandwidth, albeit at a higher rate. Since we already use Webex for most Cisco meetings, we do not anticipate a major change in traffic patterns if people work from home.
  • Webex Teams – overall, this is a low bandwidth application for messages. It is also available directly over internet. Split tunneling VPN could further reduce some of the traffic to Cisco.
  • Email – we use Office 365, directly accessible via Internet which is overall a low bandwidth application. Split tunneling VPN would further reduce traffic to Cisco.
  • Voice – most employees are likely to use mobile or home phones. CVO or IP voice clients are much less common.

Business applications
We are ensuring that business-critical applications can perform securely in the expanded infrastructure. We are building critical application lists for each function, including engineering, sales and CX. The initial assessment is that most business-critical applications will be available via VPN.

Complex use cases, partner services
Our global team has more work to do to enable remote access for call center workers, so that call center calls can be routed directly to representatives working from home. And, as many recent conferences and events have been cancelled, and travel is restricted for some, we’re looking at the best ways to host large virtual events and help our customers do the same as needed.

It’s our hope that by sharing some of our own experiences, best practices and free resources, we can work through this uncertain time together.

Resources: Cisco product offers for this unprecedented time