Are telecommuters inherently greener than the rest of us?

Ah, yes, I'm enjoying another day here in front of my office window, which is flung wide open to the crisp autumn-esque New Jersey air. Because I'm a consultant and a freelance writer, it's natural that I live the life of a telecommuter, which is just the type of network bandwidth consumer that Cisco Systems is more often setting its sights on capturing.

Ah, yes, I'm enjoying another day here in front of my office window, which is flung wide open to the crisp autumn-esque New Jersey air. Because I'm a consultant and a freelance writer, it's natural that I live the life of a telecommuter, which is just the type of network bandwidth consumer that Cisco Systems is more often setting its sights on capturing.

The company's latest outreach to people like me (but not QUITE like me, as I'll explain in a moment) is a product called Cisco Virtual Office. The integrated technology bundle requires the following at the remote site: a Cisco 800 series Integrated Services Router and end points from the Cisco Unified IP Phone 7900 series. At the head-end site you need a Cisco 7200 series VPN aggregation router, the Cisco Security Manager, Cisco Secure ACS and the Configuration Engine. Of course, there are integration services layered on top of this in order to get everything working properly and running smoothly over time. Here is the complete press release for the technology. This is essentially a repackaging of technology that was previously available but has been packaged up into a form that is easier to deploy.

Think about it. Cisco alone has 12,000 teleworkers scattered across 70 different countries, according to Fred Kost, the director of marketing for the Cisco security solutions group, with whom I spoke about this announcement. That number should grow to 20,000 by next year and 30,000 by 2010, the company expects. What's more, something like 85 percent of Cisco employees spend time working from home every week. Note that Cisco's presentation doesn't indicate whether or not that's during regular work hours or whether it's just a function of the typically workaholic workweek of the average Cisco employee.

Before I go any further with this post, I should disclose that I'm an ongoing consultant for one of the channel sales divisions at Cisco, although I don't have anything to do with this particular product.

So who is the Cisco Virtual Office meant for? Realistically, this is not a product for the sole proprietor type of free agent like me. It's for midsize-ish-size companies, which is to say at least a few hundred users, and it'll cost roughly $700 per user for an installation of that size, Kost figures. You need to have the bucks to have a Cisco infrastructure in the first place. In the future, it is conceivable that you might be able to contract with a service that does this (think future of WebEx), but that won't happen until a later phase of the rollout.

Aside from Cisco, there are a few pilot customers that are held up as examples of what you can do remote teleworking technology including American Century Investments and Dong Energy.

Although the actual carbon and energy savings related to telecommuting are debatable (after all, commute aside, isn't the electricity usage just shifting from my employer to me?), Cisco holds up statistics published by the American Consumer Institute that figure collaboration software and broadband connections could double the total number of remote workers in the United States to about 20 percent of the workforce by somewhere around 2017. This would reduce carbon emissions by roughly 45 million annually, or about 0.5 percent of the total. There's a video on the main home page of the American Consumer Institute that addresses some of these issues.

And, here's another treatise on the green benefits of telecommuting policies.

All in all, Cisco's approach is certainly one that all of the network equipment companies need to consider, especially as the phrase "stay at home" takes on new meaning. Am I greener because I don't go to a central office? I'd like to think so, but I think the issue is a lot more complex than what's been implied so far.