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Cisco makes switch lines more niche friendly

Cisco has added high-end features to its switching products for medium-sized businesses. The company is targeting schools and companies with remote offices, as those groups show more interest in IP telephony and bandwidth-intensive applications.

Cisco Systems Inc. yesterday announced a series of changes to its switching products in an effort to target medium-sized businesses, companies with remote offices, and the education market.

The changes primarily impact Cisco's Catalyst 4500 product line, as well as its 2970 and 2940 series switches. Specifically, the focus is on Cisco's Catalyst 4500 Series Supervisor Engine II-Plus, which features quality of service, scalable switching, security and multicast support and costs $8,495; the Catalyst 4500 48-port 10/100/1000 module ($5,495), and the Catalyst 4500 Access Gateway Module (AGM), which supports IP telephony in remote offices ($10,995).

The changes provide smaller companies with access to many of the high-end features that have only been available in Cisco's more expensive, enterprise-class products. Smaller businesses and companies with remote offices are eager to improve their infrastructure so they can gain the same productivity advantages that enterprises have enjoyed during the last few years, said Steven Shalita, senior manager of product marketing for Cisco.

These businesses are all beginning to use Internet-based applications and more bandwidth-intensive applications for customer care and e-learning, Shalita said. They are also showing interest in Internet Protocol telephony (IP telephony). All of these require more bandwidth, increased network management and better WAN connectivity.

In the past, these companies have shied away from the more pricey, enterprise-class equipment because it was too expensive and often provided more functionality that smaller companies needed, Shalita said.

It is a smart move for Cisco, said Zeus Kerravala, vice president of enterprise networking with the Boston-based research firm Yankee Group. Cisco already owns about 70% of the enterprise switching market, and the company needs to look elsewhere if it expects to continue to grow, he said.

Cisco is also working to make these products easier to deploy and manage, which is also important, said Chris Kozup, program director with Stamford, Conn.-based research firm Meta Group Inc. Smaller businesses or schools are not likely to have a large staff of highly trained people to deploy these products, he said.

For example, Kozup said, Cisco's cluster management suite allows a user to combine switches into a single management framework. Different configuration settings can then be set across all switches at once. These products can be managed through a more intuitive, Web-based interface, making it easier for smaller companies to use them, he said.

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