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Cisco Strengthens SMB Story

Cisco's new switches offer many features, but will their price points appeal to small businesses?

Today, Cisco Systems announced a new fixed configuration switch, a new chassis-based switch, and new management software-all aimed at the SMB market. The Catalyst 4948 is a fixed configuration 10/100/1000 48-port switch. The Catalyst 4503 is a three-slot chassis switch with a maximum of 116 10/100/1000 ports. Cisco is also releasing Cisco Network Assistant, a configuration tool that the company claims requires relatively little expertise to use, even when configuring advanced functions. The software comes for free with both the 4503 and 4948.

Cisco's push into IP telephony and wireless is evident in the new 4500 series line cards introduced today as well. These cards provide Power over Ethernet (PoE) to as many as 24 ports, giving the three-slot 4503 the capacity for 60 PoE ports. That count is reached with two 24-port line cards and a supervisor card that also includes 12 PoE ports. The supervisor card also houses eight SFP ports.

The 4503 chassis is about twice as big as you might expect it to be, owing to the presence of two very large power supply bays. The dual power supplies plug into standard 110V service and can drive the full compliment of PoE ports-that's about 800 watts just for external devices. The Supervisor Engine II-Plus-TS card has a maximum throughput of 64Gbits/sec-a lot of data for your typical SMB.

Cisco has taken a page out of Microsoft's playbook in providing the SMB market with easy-to-use, full-featured products. This announcement, when taken with Cisco's earlier multifunction router announcements, makes it painfully easy for smaller businesses with limited in-house expertise to choose an all-Cisco solution. Both the recently announced routers, which can also act as firewalls and call managers, and the switches announced today can be managed from Cisco Network Assistant.

The wild card in the equation is pricing and support. The notoriously price-sensitive SMB market may balk at Cisco's elegant solution because other vendors offer about the same functionality for about 40 percent less. Cisco's vaunted channel can go a long way toward mitigating the price difference. The promise of training, service, and support from local resellers is something that smaller customers have come to appreciate.

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