Cisco Expands Linux-Powered SMB Push

Cisco Systems is expanding its push in the small and
midsized business segment of the networking marketplace. Today Cisco
(NASDAQ:CSCO) is unveiling a series of new product, partner and service
initiatives as it continues its year-old $100 million effort to target
the SMB market
.

At the heart of Cisco’s new SMB products is a different approach and a
different operating system than that which it has traditionally delivered to
big enterprise customers.

As opposed to Cisco’s own IOS operating system, the open source Linux
operating system is the mainstay in the new SMB products. Cisco is also
taking a new route in how it works with SMB partners and customers,
providing different credit and incentives to help improve both sales and
service.

“We expected going into this that we needed to simplify the way ours
customers work with us,” Mark Monday, general manager of Cisco’s small
business solutions, told InternetNews.com. “We knew the normal Cisco
model wouldn’t always work for SMBs, so we created this unique
organization.”

As an example, Monday pointed to the process of product acquisition. In
the enterprise, Monday noted, a company typically issues a request for
proposal (RFP) with the expectation that products will ship a week after the
tender is completed. Small businesses, on the other hand, shop around before
buying and expect their purchases to be shipped immediately.

Among the new and improved SMB-focused products that Cisco is now
introducing is the Linux-powered AP 541N, an 802.11n dual-band clustering
wireless access point. The offering enables SMBs to set up wireless
clustering without the need for a central controller — a key feature when
it comes to expanding a wireless network.

“Clustering allows a second access point to essentially plug and play
with any other access point that is in the network,” Monday said.

He added that Cisco’s SMB partners need only to use the AP 541n’s
configuration screen to set up the cluster without the need to know the
individual SSID or security keys for the other access points.
All the clustered access points share the same SSID and security keys, so it
looks like one seamless wireless network to the end user.

“We’ve heard from partners that they actually really don’t want their
customers running wireless because it has been such a challenge to support
and maintain,” Monday said. “We’re starting to really work on some of those
challenges that partners have expressed, that’s what clustering is all
about.”

Cisco is also adding new features to its Linux-powered SA500 Unified Threat Management
(UTM)
device that it first announced in September, adding IPS
as well as an endpoint protection to ensure that end-user
devices have up-to-date security.

For service providers that are working with SMBs, Cisco has added a
centralized management capability for the SA500. As a result, service
providers that want to use the SA500 in a managed service offering now have
the ability to do so.

In addition to the new products, Cisco is also now trying to make it
easier for SMBs to actually pay for the gear they want to buy.

“Credit is hard to get and people don’t necessarily want to spend much
money at this point, so financing is very important,” Monday said. “We’re
now offering financing in over 80 countries through Cisco Capital. Financing
can be as low as 0 percent over 36 months. We’re trying to take away the
pain points and make it easy for our customers and our partners.”

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