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Cisco's new collaboration tools key to green strategy

Using TelePresence and unified communications tools, Cisco hopes to help companies become greener while cutting costs.

Cisco's Paul Marcoux, "green guru" and vice president of engineering, frames the company's TelePresence and unified communications push as a way to help the environment while cutting costs.

"Greening is really a social problem first," Marcoux said. "This is why it has touched the hearts and souls of so many people."

That is rare rhetoric for a networking equipment company, but Cisco has a return on investment (ROI) proposition behind the goodwill. Unified communications applications can help cut out commutes and reduce miscommunication, and TelePresence might even reduce the need for long-distance travel and a whole host of related costs, not to mention the CO2 such trips pump into the atmosphere.

Marcoux, who joined the company last November, has a definite green streak.

He expounded upon the social responsibility of corporations before admitting to the strategic edge that "greening" also happens to give Cisco. He was a founding member of Green Grid, a vendor-led consortium that is developing metrics for measuring energy efficiency within IT ecosystems.

Marcoux is not going it alone, either. A task force includes members from throughout the company, regularly investigating and pushing greener technologies and practices, from a self-regulating power supply to multipurpose devices that run more efficiently.

"I think, generally, the tech companies, including Cisco, have a combination of motivations [for going green]," said Christopher Mines, senior vice president with Forrester Research. "They see opportunities for more efficient internal economics, and they can help their customers do the same thing."

More and more, Mines said, IT departments are looking at the total cost of ownership that can justify a larger initial investment in exchange for savings down the road.

About a third of Forrester-surveyed companies are now using green criteria in their IT purchasing decisions, a percentage that has been steadily tracking upward, Mines said. But a large part of that consciousness comes with the expectations of reduced costs. Mines said that most customers would not pay extra for green technology.

A lot of this potential for both cost savings and reduced environmental impact rests with collaboration tools, which enable telecommuting and reduce travel.

"TelePresence is really the green product of the century," Marcoux said, noting its ability to reduce the need for business travel.

While more reserved in his praise, Mines agreed that changing travel habits is a large component in merging environmental and economic interests.

"If you can change your employees commuting habits or travel habits, you've really taken pretty big steps there," he said, "bigger steps probably than energy efficiency in your data center."

Marcoux said that, over the next month or so, Cisco will release third-party-reviewed data on energy and cost savings from the use of TelePresence to reduce travel.

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