Cisco unveils tools of the (management) trade

A helping IT hand has been extended to small/medium businesses (SMBs) in need of network setup, diagnostic and troubleshooting assistance.

Cisco, at its Partner Summit in Vancouver yesterday, introduced SMB Support Assistant services – the company’s first technical support services for SMBs.

Offered through the services program is support for Cisco’s basic routers, switches, wireless, security and VPN applications. However, support is not provided for voice over IP solutions, nor is same day parts replacement offered.

The Support Assistant service includes live technical support for “people who are not so technical, but who [engage in] ‘business-speak,’” said Karl Meulema, Cisco’s vice-president of services marketing. “SMB Support Assistant is the first step in a suite of products and tools for the SMB market…to help them manage networks in a simple way. It’s for companies with 250 employees or less.”

Customers receive access to Cisco’s Support Assistant technical experts via a portal site, which also provides information and instruction for configuration, troubleshooting and other service requests, with particular emphasis on easy-to-understand language and instruction.

Cisco Canada’s channel manager Steve Simmons explained that the Support Assistant program in Canada is in an early phase of creation and is currently providing customer support out of Brazil. However, by Q4 of this year, that will change and Canadian customers can look for a program delivered from Canada, including support for French language customers.

Live technical assistant centre (TAC) support is available eight hours a day, five days a week. Through the Support Assistant service Web portal, customers can obtain software support for a range of Cisco routers, switches and other hardware. TAC engineers can also provide access to software patches.

The program is available from Cisco direct or through the company’s network of Canadian systems integration partners.

Also announced yesterday was Cisco Network Assistant 2.0 – the latest version of the company’s Windows-based basic management application, available as a free download. The application is described as a PC-based network management tool for use with small and medium-sized networks of 250 users or less. The new version provides features such as configuration management, inventory reports, password synchronization and drag-and-drop IOS upgrades capability for Cisco’s SMB switches, routers and access points.

“The partner or an SMB (customer) can use the tool depending on their level of interest in managing their own network,” said Lauren Ventura, Cisco’s senior director of Worldwide Commercial Marketing. “It will also give you the tested recommended set of configurations for (Cisco) devices,” she said. “It is (a feature) built into the tool.”

Ventura explained that version 2.0 would be available by the end of April. Customers may use the tool themselves or look to their network integration/service providers to manage the tool for them.

The tool supports Cisco’s 2900, 3500, 3700 and 4500 series of Catalyst switches, the 800, 1700, 1800, 2600, 2800, 3700 and 3800 series routers and Cisco’s Aironet wireless access points.

Network Assistant 2.0 is available for download at this site.

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