Cisco partners: Networking as a Service, switches for the midmarket

Gina Narcisi

BOSTON -- Cisco Systems Inc. introduced Networking-as-a-Service capabilities and a new Catalyst 2960-X switch at its 17th annual Cisco Partner Summit in Boston.

The Cisco Networking as a Service (NaaS) offering is based on its acquisition of cloud-based networking company Meraki

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in late 2012. Cisco introduced the Meraki Managed Services Dashboard this week, which allows Cisco's managed service provider partners to offer NaaS to midmarket customers. With the dashboard, partners can manage the Meraki line of wireless LAN access points, routers and firewalls for midmarket customers.

We always have to build flexibility and agility into our business models. We will also have new concepts coming in, like software-defined networking -- which in hindsight, we were too slow to respond to.

John Chambers,
CEO, Cisco Systems Inc.

"The midmarket is a multi-billion dollar opportunity for our partners, and for Cisco," said Sujai Hajela, vice president and general manager of the wireless networking business unit of Cisco's network services group. "Our priority is how we will assist the partners in selling into this market [and] how we will make the portfolio simple to be deployed and consumed."

"Cisco has been really enterprise-focused," said Tim Savage, principal at ENS Group, a Fort Wayne, Ind.-based IT service provider and Cisco partner. "I think having Cisco really focus on the midmarket is going to go a long way in for the channel, and help us deliver directly to our midmarket customers."

"Customers with lean IT departments ... want an off-premises solution for wireless, security and switching. The managed services dashboard allows [partners] to manage these environments," said Bruce Klein, senior vice president of Cisco's worldwide partner organization.

The new dashboard will offer providers a centralized view of its customers' network, with live analytics, monitoring and support ticketing capabilities. Providers will also be able to customize the logo to promote their own brand with their customers, said Sanjit Biswas, vice president and general manager of Cisco's cloud networking group.

New OpenFlow-ready, stackable switches

The Catalyst 2960-X series of Gigabit Ethernet access switches is a flexible and power-efficient closet switch for midmarket companies. The switch series comes in 24- and 48-port models, and customers can stack up to eight of them together.

Cisco also claims the 2960-X is SDN-ready, with network programmability that will allow for OpenFlow and onePK support in future software releases. "With the speed of change, there will be challenges," Cisco CEO John Chambers said. "We always have to build flexibility and agility into our business models. We will also have new concepts coming in, like software-defined networking -- which in hindsight, we were too slow to respond to."

The switches will give midsize customers application visibility for their changing networks that have been convoluted with IT consumerization.

"The 2960-X family of switches serves as a great migration platform for existing 2960 series customers offering enhanced features and functionality. It also gives a nice alternative for customers who may not necessarily require Unified Access within the midmarket campus network today," said Jason Edelman, a senior solutions architect at Presidio, a managed IT service provider and value-added reseller of Cisco.

Dubbed by the company as the "greenest switches on the market," the 2960-X switches also offer energy-saving features that can reduce a business' power consumption by up to 80%, Cisco's Hajela said. The switches will be available and shipping in July.

Will Cisco partners be left behind?

Despite Cisco's push to software and services, hardware is still relevant, said Rob Lloyd, president of development and sales at Cisco. "Hardware matters when it comes to ... the next generation of IT," he said. "When you take ASICs and integrate software, you create better performance and scale."

But even if Cisco partners have a hardware focus, no partner will be left in the dust, Lloyd said during a press question-and-answer session.

Touchbase, a UK-based communication technology service provider and Cisco partner, believes that the hybrid IT model, where a company mixes on-premises and cloud-based infrastructure, will be crucial for businesses moving forward. "You can have a great business today doing traditional IT services integration. I don't think that [all infrastructure] can be magically transitioned to the cloud -- there are [still] going to on-premises parts. It's about change and movement, but it's also about timing," said Mike Danson, managing director of Touchbase.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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