Cisco Revamps Networking Line for Small Business

By Kenneth Corbin | Posted April 12, 2012

Cisco has unveiled a broad upgrade of its portfolio of small business networking equipment. The networking giant has begun courting the small business market aggressively as it expands beyond its traditional focus on larger enterprise IT shops.

With Thursday's release, Cisco introduces new routers, wireless access points and switches, as well as a new suite of unified communications and managed service offerings aimed specifically at small business companies.

Historically, Cisco has been "known more for technology offerings that serve the enterprise," said David Tang, Cisco's director of strategy and communications. "We have not always been well known for offering solutions and products and services for the SMB space."

But about four years ago, Cisco began to advance its small business strategy, setting up a unit within the company that "more or less became a business-within-a-business here at Cisco," Tang explained.

The new products that Cisco rolls out today are all billed as "purpose-built" for SMBs. They come in response both to the rapid uptake of mobile devices in the business environment and to the rise of cloud applications, two trends that demand robust and reliable network connectivity.

The rise in mobile traffic has hit wireless carriers hard, and the major 3G and 4G operators have responded by increasingly offloading their traffic to fixed networks. According to one estimate, carriers directed one-third of handset and tablet traffic to fixed networks last year. Another forecast predicts that the aggregate volume of wireless traffic will surge past wired device traffic by 2015.

Taken together, these factors have elevated the network to a mission-critical level for businesses of all sizes, but particularly for smaller firms, which have been the leading adopters of public cloud offerings and can ill afford long periods of downtime.

"If I lose connectivity to the cloud and I'm on desktop or PC, I can still remain productive," Tang said. "But with the mobility and cloud-type solutions, the applications and data are being served up by the cloud."

"If you lose connectivity you lose productivity," he added.

Cisco Access Points for Small Business

In that spirit, Cisco offers a refresh of its small business networking gear, including two new access points that small businesses can use to set up Wi-Fi networks in their offices, warehouses and other facilities.

The WAP121 and the higher-end WAP321 both offer an unobtrusive design and can be mounted on a ceiling, wall or shelf, providing four and eight SSIDs, respectively. The access points run on power over Ethernet (PoE), so they only require one cable and don't need to be located near an electrical outlet, which gives businesses more flexibility in their placement.

The WAP 121, which offers Ethernet LAN connectivity, costs $173. The WAP 321, which provides gigabit Ethernet LAN connection, runs $310.

The products round out the lower end of Cisco's portfolio of wireless access points for small businesses.

Cisco Routers for Small Business

On the router front, Cisco introduces two new products, the RV180 and RV180W, specifically designed for small businesses with remote workers. According to Cisco, nearly 71 percent of small businesses consider themselves mobile, "work-from-anywhere" operations, and 26 percent have employees who regularly work from home at least three days a week, placing a premium on a secure, reliable connection to the corporate network.

The routers are equipped with what Cisco describes as an intuitive, browser-based interface, offering simplified configuration and management with up to 10 concurrent VPN tunnels. The higher-end RV180W Wireless N offers a multimode functionality that lets it function as a router, access point, bridge or repeater. The RV180 sells for $182; the RV180W product carries a price of $246.

Cisco Switches for Small Business

Cisco also introduced an array of new switches, ranging from 24 to 52 ports. The 500 and 500X series of managed switches use the industry standard Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol to provide an automated management of multiple broadband connections to achieve an always-on connectivity. Pricing ranges from $590 up to $5,556.

Cisco Unified Communications for Small Business

Cisco also updated its unified communications system, the UC320W. Version 2.2 offers Gigabit WAN connectivity, an integrated wireless access point, a phone and fax port and a four-port switch. The UC refresh also includes new phones, telephone adapters and a wireless bridge.

In addition to the product upgrades, Cisco also revamped its OnPlus service offering for managed services providers (MSPs). With today's update, the first since the formal launch of OnPlus in December, Cisco gives MSPs new monitoring tools that allow them to remotely observe and manage the networks of their clients.

The new features let MSPs notify their client if they anticipate a problem, and to log in remotely and troubleshoot. The system also allows MSPs to collect detailed information about their clients' LANs, including the number of connected devices, access points and traffic fluctuations.

By collecting information remotely that would normally require an on-site visit, MSPs gain valuable insights that can provide a productivity boost and more quickly resolve clients' issues, such as determining whether the problem can be fixed by a generalist technician or if it requires a specialist.

"The big thing that we address with them is efficiency, so they don't have to spend time driving back and forth to customer sites in most cases," Tang said.

"It underscores our commitment to the small business market," he said of the new release. "[It] also underscores our belief that they [SMBs] really need to assess their networking capabilities."

Kenneth Corbin is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written on politics, technology and other subjects for more than four years, most recently as the Washington correspondent for InternetNews.com, covering Congress, the White House, the FCC and other regulatory affairs. You can find Kenneth on LinkedIn.

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