Cisco Puts the Business Back in Small Business Networking

By Frank J. Ohlhorst | Posted March 21, 2013

Small businesses try to meet their wired and wireless networking needs inexpensively and efficiently. However, high prices and the inherent complexity of enterprise-level networking products often force smaller businesses to choose consumer-level products that are ill-equipped to meet true business needs.

Cisco aims to solve that dilemma with the enterprise networking company’s latest line of small business networking products, which offer feature sets suitable for an enterprise, while still offering installation and management simplicity at an affordable price point. Cisco’s latest line of Small Business products exemplify the differences between what consumer-level networking products offer and what small businesses actually need.

A Closer Look at Cisco’s Small Business Networking Products

Cisco sent us several of the new small business products for testing, including a just released-to-market Cisco RV042G Dual Gigabit WAN VPN Router and the Cisco Small Business WAP321 Wireless-N Wi-Fi access point (AP).

Cisco’s combination of the RV042G router and the WAP321 AP proves to be a good combination for a small business that wants to share an Internet connection, network desktop PCs together, support Wi-Fi access across multiple areas and provide secure remote access into the business network.

Cisco RV042G Dual Gigabit WAN VPN Router

Figure 1: Cisco's RV042G Dual Gigabit WAN VPN Router

First let's take a look at the RV042G router, which sports dual Gigabit Ethernet WAN ports, a four port Gigabit Ethernet switch, an integrated SPI firewall and IPsec VPN capabilities. The two WAN ports can be used for fail-over, bonding or one can be configured as a DMZ port.

It is that flexibility that brings the RV042G beyond what a consumer router can offer. Simply put, consumer routers are designed to let several family members share a broadband connection. A business router is expected to do much more – including support remote access, protect services from external threats, allow PC-to-PC-to-server interactions, host a Web presence and many other business tasks.

However, those very features normally make an enterprise networking product far too complex to configure for the typical small business operator. And that's exactly where Cisco has concentrated most of its innovation – making it easier to setup and use its small business networking products.

The RV042G router supports that simplification ideology with a browser-based management console that offers wizards and integrated support to keep simplicity a common denominator throughout the product.

Measuring around 5- x 8- x 1.5-inches, the diminutive RV042G router has a small business-friendly street price of about $190, making it only slightly more expensive than a consumer router.

The router is very easy to setup, thanks to the aforementioned browser-based user interface and setup wizards. What’s more, the router's more advanced features are equally easy to setup and locate -- something of a rarity on consumer routers. They either lack features, such as VPN or Dynamic DNS, or they bury those features in the dark depths of the end-user management console.

Take a look at the data sheet for a complete list of features for the Cisco RV042G Dual Gigabit WAN VPN router.

Cisco Small Business WAP321 Wireless-N Wi-Fi access point

Figure 2: Cisco's Small Business WAP321 Wireless-N Wi-Fi access point

However, the RV042G does lack a few capabilities that may give pause to companies looking for advanced features. For example, you won’t find support for subscription-based content filtering – which some businesses may want to use to control employee Internet access. Also, the device doesn’t have L2TP support, meaning that if you want to use that type of encryption for VPN support, you will have to look elsewhere.

Other than those minor complaints, the RV042G router delivers what’s needed to move small businesses beyond the confines of consumer-level products.

Enhanced Small Business Wireless Networking

However, the RV042G router really shines when you pair it with one of Cisco's small business access points. For example, if you want to add Wi-Fi to your small business network, setting up consumer-level Wi-Fi access points can be very easy – yet still leave your business in the dark, at least when it comes to security or setting up multiple Wi-Fi hotspots.

Cisco's WAP321 Wireless-N Wi-Fi access point (AP) eschews consumer-level features for ones that make more sense in a small enterprise. First off, the WAP321 AP's key features include power over Ethernet, support for 802.11a/b/g/n networking as well as support for VLANs, QoS, and selectable bands.

Take a look at the data sheet for a complete list of features for the Cisco WAP321 Wireless-N Wi-Fi access point.

Pay More, Get More

The access point's extensive feature set comes at a cost. The $230 street price is double that of a typical consumer-quality access point. Nevertheless – the WAP321 AP offers one feature you won’t find on many consumer devices: the capability to share its configuration with other WAP321 APs on the network.

That means you just plug in and configure one WAP321 AP. If you add any more WAP321 APs to the network, the device can clone the original configuration and be almost instantly provisioned. That could potentially save hours in setup time, and it also ensures that the APs are all configured correctly.

Other noteable features include the capability to create and deploy security rules, filters and virtual access points. You can also isolate wireless traffic from internal network resources, which makes the WAP321 AP a good choice for a customer-service hotspot.

All things considered, Cisco’s small business networking products eliminate the need for businesses to select consumer-quality networking equipment that ultimately fall short of their needs.

Frank Ohlhorst is an award-winning technology journalist, professional speaker and IT business consultant with more than 25 years of experience in the technology arena. He has written for ComputerWorld, TechTarget, PCWorld, ExtremeTech, Tom's Hardware, Entrepreneur, Forbes and BNET. Ohlhorst was also the Executive Technology Editor for eWeek and former director of the CRN Test Center.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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