Cisco targets SMBs with convergence

Cisco targets SMBs with convergence

Cisco this week is expected to launch bundled IP voice and switching gear for small and midsize businesses looking to roll out converged networks quickly and at a low cost.

The packages include new switches, new versions of Cisco's CallManager Express IP PBX for small offices and management tools for quickly getting converged networks online with support for 50 to 1,500 users, the company says. Cisco says that by buying these packages, customers can save up to 35 per cent on switching, routing and VoIP hardware and software compared with buying the products piecemeal.

The two bundles are aimed at organizations with 20 to 250 end users, and 250 to 1,500 end users, respectively. For smaller shops, the product bundle includes CallManager Express 3.3, which runs on a module that fits into Cisco's ISR line of WAN routers, as well as a new version of Unity Express, Cisco's unified voice/e-mail messaging product. New features include the ability to set up call-in conference numbers on CallManager Express, and broader language support for Unity Express. The 20-to-250-user offering also includes the option of two new IP phones - the 7941G and 7961G - which include large screens for supporting language characters such as Cantonese or Japanese.

The new Catalyst Express 500 series of switches also are part of the small-business package. These switches, which include 12 or 24 ports of 10/100/1,000M bit/sec Ethernet, are aimed at small shops that require easy setup and management, Cisco says. Toward that end, the Catalyst Express boxes are configured via a GUI-based Cisco Network Assistant 3.0 tool, instead of the standard Cisco command line interface on most Catalyst switches.

For businesses with 250 to 1,500 employees, that bundle includes options for a new voice mail-only version of Cisco Unity, as well as several tools for setting up and managing VoIP networks, a scaled-down version of Cisco MeetingPlace collaboration software and three new IP phones.

New management tools include the IP Communications Operations Manager, a GUI-based application that includes two Cisco 1040 Sensor appliances, which allow customers to view performance and service levels for up to 1,000 phones. The Voice Provisioning Tool lets customers set up end users for CallManager and Unity voice mailbox settings - tasks required separate applications in the past. Another new software product, the IP Communications Operations Manager, lets administrators view call quality on individual calls across a small network.

A new switch series, the Catalyst 2960, also is being introduced for this product package. The 24- or 48-port switch (10/100/1,000M bit/sec on ports) includes more memory than the previous mid-market Layer 2 Catalyst 2950, allowing the box to support more features such as access control lists and QoS, Cisco says.

MeetingPlace Express is a scaled down version of Cisco's MeetingPlace software (120 simultaneous users instead of 960). The software lets customers set up meetings with voice and Web collaboration with a central call-in number and Web site, similar to services offered by WebEx and other providers.

Bundles including routers with built-in VoIP gear, phones and switches will cost about US$450 to US$650 per employee, Cisco estimates, although channel partners set pricing based on Cisco guidelines. For individual products, the Catalyst Express 500 series starts at US$800 and the Catalyst 2960 switches start at US$1,300. The IP Communications Operations Manager costs US$14,000 - or US$23,000 when bundled with the Service Monitor. The Voice Provisioning software costs US$1,000. The IP phones start at US$400. MeetingPlace Express starts at $70,000 and is expected to be available in December.

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