Cisco, Microsoft Union Spawns SMB IT Solutions

Cisco Systems and Microsoft today announced that the two companies are combining their respective strengths in information technology (IT) hardware, software and services to help spur small- and medium-sized business deployments of computer systems once reserved for enterprise-class corporations only.

Building on the twosome’s prior collaboration in areas such as enterprise-class data center architecture and Internet protocol (IP) telephony, Cisco and Microsoft are now joining forces to deliver integrated IT solutions to SMBs. The two companies will tap into their collective marketing and channel programs to deliver a whole new breed of IT systems designed specifically for smaller businesses.

Peter Alexander, vice president of Cisco’s worldwide commercial market segment, said the two companies view the SMB market the same way, so it only made sense for the two to team up and develop IT solutions specific to the market.

“Cisco and Microsoft have long had many of the same small- and medium-sized business channel partners and customers,” Alexander said. “We define small businesses as those with 20 to 1,000 employees. Anything smaller than that is more consumer or home office oriented. But businesses with 500 to 1,000 employees act like enterprises, so we’re really focusing on the mid-market — businesses with 500 or fewer employees.”

Darren Huston, vice president of Microsoft’s U.S. small and mid-market solutions and partners division, said the software maker is partnering with companies that channel partners and small and midsize customers demand — companies like Cisco.

“Many of our SMB-focused partners are already working with Cisco partners and we are excited about the opportunity for these partners to leverage the SMB-focused products and services we are providing with Cisco,” Huston said. “Partners will be able to deliver enhanced service and support to their SMB customers who will in turn benefit from increased productivity, efficiency, and connectivity the joint solutions help to provide.”

IT Trifecta for SMBs
Cisco and Microsoft have prepared three different solutions specifically designed for the SMB market. Alexander said the “pre-tested, pre-configured architectures and solutions that we are jointly developing will help drive partner success and make it easier for them to provide integrated solutions to their SMB customers.”

The first offspring of the union between Cisco and Microsoft is an integrated service bundle. Designed for smaller businesses with 20- to 50-employees, the integrated service bundle brings together Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003 Standard Edition with Cisco’s 831 Router. Consider it “my first network” for small businesses.

Channel partners will love the fact that the system is guaranteed to work effectively together. Small businesses will love the fact that the integrated network system costs 20 to 30 percent less than buying the same items separately.

The second hardware and software bundle is far sexier than the first. It combines Cisco IPC with Microsoft CRM. That’s right — Cisco’s expertise in internetworking products and Microsoft’s customer relationship management systems have been integrated to offer small businesses a way to improve operational efficiencies in a manner once only available to large enterprises.

In what could evolve to be the ideal voice and data solution for SMBs, the two companies’ provide a powerful example of the type of integrated applications they can develop for smaller businesses. In essence, Cisco and Microsoft decided to put the friendly face of Outlook on a total voice and data customer management system for SMBs.

By enabling a smaller business to glimpse an integrated view of all customer communications — whether on the phone, by e-mail or voicemail — this CRM-IPC bundle could help improve customer satisfaction, increase productivity, reduce total cost of ownership and sustain a competitive advantage for sales-oriented businesses. Alexander said the key to the offering is the partnership’s ability to drive down IT complexity and price at the same time.

“Cisco IPC plus Microsoft CRM is really a business contact management solution that goes both ways — it can trigger a customer event on a desktop as well as trigger a call center to update a customer account history,” he said. “Our ability to link phone and computer systems together can dramatically improve operational efficiencies and productivity for SMBs, while enhancing overall customer satisfaction.”

The third business solution provided by the dynamic IT duo is designed specifically for their channel partners. In order to promote greater levels of common infrastructure among the SMB market, Cisco are Microsoft are offering IT solution blueprints to their partners. Alexander explained the significance of the offering.

“By developing reference architecture blueprints for Cisco-Microsoft IT solutions for small and medium businesses, we enable our channel partners to deliver engineer-tested Cisco secure network infrastructures and Microsoft award-winning applications to their customers,” Alexander said. “The blueprints are also a great way for small businesses to build a long-term network architecture plan that can be deployed in phases as money becomes available to grow the business.”

The blueprints are being validated through a joint verification process between the two companies, and are being developed to specifically meet the needs of SMB customers with 500 or fewer employees. The blueprints will also serve as a valuable resource for Cisco and Microsoft channel partners. Going forward, the two companies plan to announce additional joint channel resources and marketing programs.

“As a partner of Cisco and Microsoft, I see a huge advantage in these ‘best practice’ architectures from two established SMB leaders,” said Gia McNutt, CEO of Special Order Systems. “Cisco and Microsoft are providing us with what amounts to a roadmap for offering our customers end-to-end solutions that will help them improve the profitability and productivity of their businesses.”

The Cisco-Microsoft reference architectures for SMBs and the CRM solution will be available to Cisco and Microsoft channel partners during the first quarter of 2004. The integrated Microsoft Small Business Server 2003 Standard and Cisco 831 Router offering is now available in the U.S. Both solutions will be delivered through qualified Cisco and Microsoft channel partners.

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