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Product Analysis: Cisco Small Business Communications System

The Upshot

Cisco is aiming to grab a slice of the lucrative small- and midsize-enterprise market by scaling down -- in both features and price -- its enterprise-class WLAN controller and Unified Communications manager and switches.
Growing companies looking for feature-rich wired/wireless communications systems have traditionally had a tough choice: Deploy SOHO gear that fails to meet their business needs, or spring for enterprise systems that can break limited IT budgets and strain management capabilities.
Cisco has done a good job simplifying setup and configuration; reasonably skilled administrators or VARs will be able to get the Small Business Communications System up and running quickly. Extensive customization is available; however, those accustomed to wizard-driven SOHO or Microsoft products may find the SBCS a bit difficult to manage.

Cisco's Small Business Communications System

What's that? Your growing business could benefit from unified communications, but you figure high-end gear is out of reach? You're not alone: In a recent Forrester survey, just 15 percent of companies with fewer than 1,000 employees had even installed IP PBXes. There's clearly a huge untapped market here, and Cisco Systems, a vendor traditionally known for its pricey enterprise-class products, has an answer in its Small Business Communications System, or SBCS.

Cisco isn't the first to eye this opportunity: D-Link Corp., Netgear and other SOHO vendors have brought such high-end features as PoE (Power over Ethernet), controller-based WLANs and VoIP to SMB customers either through their own products or via partners. However, Cisco is the first enterprise networking vendor to move into this space.

We reviewed Cisco's new SBCS in our Syracuse University Real World Lab. The product line includes Cisco's Catalyst Express 520 switch, which lists for $1,395; the 520-Series WLAN controller, at $1,799; and the Unified Communications 500-Series VoIP gateway, which starts at $4,195. Our $7,888 as-tested list price includes two compatible APs, which start at $499. All pieces are available now, on a mix-and-match basis so companies can customize the SBCS to their needs and budgets.

Pieces to the Puzzle

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