Little Biz, Big Demand - InformationWeek
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Little Biz, Big Demand

Cisco's new networking products and services aim to meet the special needs of small and midsize businesses

Selling advanced networking technology into the small- and midsize- business market can be a challenge. They want all the features and capabilities that big companies want but don't have the money or IT staffs to buy, manage, and support sophisticated, enterprise-scale products.

Networking leader Cisco Systems tackled those issues last week, introducing packages of networking products, services, support, and financing custom-built for small and midsize businesses. Two packages debuted: one designed for companies with 20 to 250 employees and one for businesses with 250 to 1,500 employees.

In a surprising move, 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."

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. It's designed to make it easier for small business to implement a converged voice and data network.

For midsize companies, Cisco's Business Communications Solution includes a variety of switches, routers, and wireless gear. It also features 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.

"Cisco never really had SMB products before," says Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala. "They mainly offered smaller versions of their enterprise products. These packages include a low-priced box and an easier-to-configure interface than they've ever offered before."

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.

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