Cisco Expands Linux-Powered SMB Push

$100 million investment for small business networking continues.

 By Sean Michael Kerner
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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."

This article was originally published on Dec 2, 2009
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