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Cisco Puts High-End Communications Gear Within Reach

Cisco's Small Business Communications System boasts big features at a affordable price.

Sean Ginevan

August 10, 2007

2 Min Read

All elements of the SBCS performed at the level of quality we've come to expect from Cisco's enterprise products. Moreover, the company has taken great strides in making its products easier to set up out of the box. For example, FXS ports on the UC520 come preconfigured with extensions, and IP phones automatically register with extensions as they're plugged into the network. Using a simple Web configuration utility, we quickly got a wireless network running on our Cisco 526, including 802.1X support. In a couple of hours, we had a working wireless network and VoIP system. chart: SBCS Feature Comparison While it's easy to get a basic system up and running, the amount of customization available within the SBCS will be overwhelming for some network admins at smaller companies. Cisco says it expects to make most sales in conjunction with value-added resellers, which will guide the configuration and deployment process. In fact, streamlined hardware setup is as much designed to help VARs get the system up and running so they can focus on customization as it is to help IT staff trying to deploy things themselves.

Configuration and management are largely handled through Cisco Configuration Assistant, or CCA. The product incorporates a variety of configuration tools from Cisco's portfolio, but we found the look and feel most reminiscent of the Cisco Network Assistant graphical management tool. CCA is able to manage much of what's in SBCS, though there are some stumbling blocks: For example, the wireless access point built into the UC 520 is managed as a separate network from the Cisco 526, because the UC 520's internal AP isn't compatible with LWAPP. Other features must be managed within a product's native Web interface rather than through the config assistant, creating a somewhat disjointed management experience. Cisco says it will address both issues in future updates.

Our major stumbling block, however, lies in using CCA for day-to-day management. While the tool does provide numerous network views, including topology and "front panel" views, it still brings a feature-oriented management style to the table. We'd prefer a process-oriented approach that keeps day-to-day management tasks, like administering voice mail and configuring extensions, separate from the complexity of the rest of the system, similar to how Microsoft handles Windows administration today. A startup wizard and activity-based wizards would complement feature-oriented management for less-common adjustments. Fortunately, the SBCS can be remotely managed by a VAR.

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