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Cisco switch products target small business

Company aggressively addresses smaller businesses with products that reduce the cost and complexity of operating a Cisco network.

Cisco Systems is aggressively targeting small and midsize businesses with a set of Ethernet switching products designed to greatly reduce the cost and complexity of operating a network.

On Monday, the networking giant announced changes to its Catalyst switches specifically designed and priced for small and midsize businesses. With the changes, Cisco hopes to attract new customers with a segue into its modular family of switches, enabling them to deploy more advanced services--like converged data, voice and video networks--with higher levels of resiliency, security and control.

The offering includes the new Supervisor II-Plus-TS card. Since Cisco's switches use what is called a centralized switching architecture, all chassis-based Cisco switches require a supervisor card that fits into one of the slots of the chassis and directs packets in and out of the switch. The new Supervisor II-Plus-TS is different from the standard Catalyst 4500 supervisor card. In addition to providing the necessary switching function, the new card also includes Ethernet ports that can be used to connect to servers, wireless access points, Internet Protocol phones, printers or users.

By building usable ports directly into the supervisor card, Cisco said, it has greatly reduced the cost of entry for customers. An entry-level 4500 switch with the new 20-port Supervisor II-Plus-TS card costs roughly $7,995. This price includes the actual chassis, 20 ports of Ethernet, a power supply and the supervisor card.

Until now, customers had to spend $7,995 for the base product, plus an additional $4,995 for a 48-port Ethernet line card, according to the company.

"Price is one factor for the small and midsize customer," said Peter Alexander, vice president of marketing for Cisco's consumer business. "This new offering is really about providing more value to customers and building in investment protection. We're bridging the gap between stackable switches, typically used by small and midsize companies, and modular switches used in the enterprise."

Cisco has also added a simplified management tool, called the Network Assistant. Cisco's management tools for its high-end switches and routers require trained and certified network managers to know special coding for Cisco's operating software. But because small and midsize companies often don't have a dedicated network staff, Cisco developed a simple-to-use graphical interface that allows even an untrained technician to tweak the network without having to understand all the coding behind it. The tool comes free of charge, Alexander said.

Lastly, Cisco has introduced a new fixed configuration switch called the Catalyst 4948, which is optimized for server aggregation. This switch has 48 ports of 10/100/1000-megabits-per-second Ethernet built in and costs $13,495. It is designed primarily for high-traffic server farms in medium-size business.

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The small and midsize business market has increasingly become important for Cisco, as it tries to expand. The entire consumer segment, which also includes Cisco's home-networking brand, Linksys, makes up roughly 25 percent of the company's overall revenue.

Over the past six months, Cisco has aggressively courted small and midsize businesses with various programs, including incentives for channel partners. It has also introduced new products specifically designed for this market.

The small and midsize business "market is in the process of adopting high-value technology, much like enterprise customers did in the 1990s," Alexander said. "We need to be able to offer them a variety of form factors and packages."