New Cisco solution targets SMBs

With small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) beginning to transition into deploying high value IT solutions, Cisco Systems Inc. announced on Monday a system tailored for the SMB called the Cisco Business Communications Solution.

“The SMB [space] is the largest opportunity in IT today and fastest growing part of the IT market,” said Peter Alexander, vice-president of marketing, commercial for Cisco Systems. “The Cisco Business Communications Solution is a blueprint that defines how to build a network if you have 15 employees, 100 employees or 1,500 employees,” he added.

The announcement, said Alexander, continues Cisco’s focus on the commercial space with new technologies that have been tailored and customized for SMBs.

“[Cisco] is definitely slowly edging [their] way down the market,” said Brian Sharwood, principle with the Seaboard Group in Toronto. “Cisco does it by adding features available on the larger enterprise products and pushing that down slowly,” he added.

For companies with up to 250 employees, Cisco has introduced new versions of its CallManager Express, Cisco Unity Express and IP phones with gigabit interfaces. Cicso has also introduced the Catalyst Express 500 switch, designed with SMBs in mind. Thebox is configured through a graphical interface and supports up to 24 ports of GigE with an option of Power over Ethernet. The Catalyst Express 500 list price ranges from $US795 to $US2795.

These sysytems, said Sharwood, may not necessarily be the cheapest, but are not bad for a SMB.

“[It is] kind of complicated and [this solution is] much better at reducing some of that complexity and trying to get some SMBs to bring phone networks together with their data networks. What Cisco has been getting better at is the user interface part, which has always been a Cisco problem,” he said.

Sharwood said it reamins to be seen if the new system is truly simple enough for a SMB to handle.

“Setting up a voice network is never simple because there are a whole series of expectations. It is a slightly different process, so being able to have it simple to use and intuitive are pretty important,” he said.

For companies with 250 to 1500 employees, Cisco also introduced a new version of Unity, IP phones with video capabilities, as well as MeetingPlace Express and new switching platforms.

Alexander said the Catalyst 2960, a layer 2+ stackable switch, is a “super charged” version of the 2950 with more processing power and memory with up to 48 ports. It lists between $US1,295 and $US4,495.

As well, Cisco has developed a CRM communications connector compatible with Cisco’s CallManager and CallManager Express that allows interoperability with Microsoft CRM and IP-communications.

It was the CRM capability that attracted Nic Roberts, director of information services for Greenstone Farm Credit Services in East Lansing, Mich., to the Cisco SMB system.

The company, which provides financial services to the agricultural community, has 380 employees with 37 locations across Michigan and northeast Wisconsin.

In addition to the CRM connector, Cisco provided Greenstone with IP phones, unified messaging and CallManager that Roberts said “[replaces] 37 disparate obsolete and failing phone systems.”

Currently, two locations are undergoing implementation and Roberts expects all locations to be converted over to the new system by March of next year.

In terms of Cisco’s promise that the system is easy to use, Roberts said it has been easier to install than he expected.

“I wouldn’t say it was seamless. It is big technology we are putting in, however it is integrating at the points we wanted to,” said Roberts, who added a partner is helping the company implement in its first two sites but his firm will implement the other 35 locations itself.

In addition to the hardware, the Cisco Business Communication Solution also offers an application bundle and service and support offerings for both SMB and mid-market companies.

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