Selling advanced networking technology into the small and midsize business market can be a challenge. Smaller businesses want all of the features and capabilities that big companies want, but they don't have the money or IT staff to buy, manage, and support sophisticated, enterprise-scale products.
Networking leader Cisco Systems on Monday tries to address those issues by introducing packages of networking products, services, support, and financing custom-built for the small and midsize business markets. The company is introducing two packages; one designed for companies with 20 to 250 employees and one for businesses with 250 to 1,500 employees.
"Cisco never really had SMB products before," says Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala. "They mainly offered smaller versions of their enterprise products. These new packages include a low-priced box and an easier to configure interface than they've ever offered before."
The Cisco Business Communications Solution system for small businesses includes the new Catalyst Express 500 switch, CallManager Express software for call routing, Unity Express software for voice mail and call distribution, Network Assistant software for network management, and IP phones. Together, the package is designed to make it easier for small business to implement a converged voice and data network.
For midsize companies, Cisco's Business Communications Solution packages include a variety of switches, routers, wireless gear, and a range of applications such as MeetingPlace Express for voice and Web conferencing, Mobile Connect to let users route calls to mobile and home phones, Unity Connection to create a browser-based integrated messaging system that includes voice mail, speech recognition, and automated attendant features, and a variety of tools for provisioning and managing the communications systems.
One of the biggest surprises is that Cisco eliminated the command-line interface, which is used to type in commands to set up and manage most Cisco products, and replaced it in the small-business system with a browser-based management system.
"This is the first-ever product in our switching line that doesn't have a command-line interface," says Julie O'Brien, senior manager of product and technology marketing for Cisco IP Communications. "The Network Assistant manages everything, which makes it very easy and straightforward to configure."
Cisco also introduced features to help its resellers market the packages to customers, including quick configuration tools and a support-assistant portal. It's also offering financing that will let customers spread out the cost of a system.
"What's appealing about this offering is that it's not a skinny-downed version of their big products, it's a more tailored version that's specific for this market," says Gartner research VP Mika Krammer. "The most compelling piece is the support piece. In order to sell successfully to the SMB market, you must make it appealing to the reseller channel. Cisco has enabled remote support and is letting resellers add some value-added services."