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Cisco helps SMBs build app-ready networks

Cisco today is updating its switches and management tools for SMBs, reducing the network burdens that come with application deployments.

Cisco Systems Inc. continued its push into the small and medium-sized business market today with the announcement of new modular switches geared toward SMBs.

Cisco announced enhancements to its Catalyst 4500 switches, a new 4948 switch and its new Network Assistant, an entry-level management system with a GUI designed to make centralized network management simpler for SMBs.

"We see more interest from small and medium businesses in intelligent networks, as they deploy CRM, ERP and other applications," said Peter Alexander, Cisco's vice president of worldwide commercial marketing.

Cisco has made this market a priority, and CEO John Chambers has pledged to release as many as 30 products in the commercial SMB marketplace this year. Earlier this month, Cisco announced a new group of 1800, 2800 and 3800 routers designed to bring advanced features -- such as VoIP and intrusion detection -- to branch offices and SMBs.

Because Cisco, like other networking vendors, has seen dramatic slowdowns in the service provider market and a leveling off in the enterprise market, it is setting its sights on SMBs, said Kneko Burney, chief market strategist with Scottsdale, Ariz.-based research firm In-Stat/MDR.

"The small and medium business market has great opportunity for growth," Burney said.

In an attempt to bring more power to SMBs, Cisco has updated the Catalyst 5403 switch, which now performs at 64 Gbps and has 12 wire-speed 10/100/1000 power over Ethernet ports. The 5400 line of switches is priced between $2,495 and $4,495.

The 4849 switch incorporates several security features, including the ability to detect spoofing that helps prevent man-in-the-middle attacks. It sells for $13,495.

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The Network Assistant is designed to simplify centralized management. For example, if a user plugs a phone into a switch, the switch will automatically launch the proper settings for a phone, as opposed to another type of device, said John McCool, vice president of engineering, Ethernet switching unit.

All products are also 802.1x compatible.

Cisco is also hoping to entice SMBs to buy these modular switches through an incentive program. The vendor is offering to buy back Linksys switches, sometimes at as much as 100% of the original purchase price, so that customers can replace them with Cisco's new SMB switches.

Cisco is facing competition for SMB business from 3Com Corp. and Nortel Networks Corp. While 3Com is known for its less expensive products, Burney said Cisco is hoping to compete via more expensive products that offer more functionality.

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