SMB is the market almost every vendor wants to be associated with at the moment so it was no surprise to see it dominate the annual Cisco Partner Summit in Las Vegas last week. What did raise a few eyebrows (including mine) was just how far down the food chain Cisco is looking to win business.
Perhaps the most interesting announcement was the Smart Business Communications System suite of products. The US definition of SMB is anything below 1000 seats (a number that accounts for more than 99 per cent of Australian businesses, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics). But this unified communication gear is targeted at organisations with less than 20 users.
That's right folks, Cisco for the masses. It will take some serious user education to make this message fly because Cisco, like IBM, has put a lot of time and effort over the years into positioning itself as a Rolls Royce brand. Most companies with 20 users are quite happy getting around town in their Holden Commodore and only select verticals will have much use for the extra features Cisco is offering.
But one possible outcome of this aggressive move down the ladder could well be some clarification around the role Linksys will play in the Cisco stable. It has been something of a love child since it was acquired by Cisco four years ago - tolerated but shown little if any love by its parent.
Cisco executives claim each brand has a place in the market. That should be true but I would argue there has been a large grey area where resellers and users were not sure which brand was the right solution. Now Cisco has put its cards on the table, Linksys is likely to see its target market reduced to consumer and SOHO. But at least it will have a clear message and can concentrate on differentiating itself from Cisco and other competitors. It isn't easy to live in the shadow of an older and more successful sibling.
In other news this week, Express Data is trying to break down a problem as old as the channel - most resellers just don't like working with each other. And who can blame you? There are not many industries where one business willingly parades its customers in front of a competitor. In the generic world of IT resale, I wouldn't be holding my breath and waiting for that to change. But the ED initiative is attempting to get Microsoft Dynamics CRM specialists to partner with Cisco unified communications experts.
Harris Loefti, who is running the project, estimated there are about 60 Microsoft and 40 Cisco dealers that will fit this model. The initiative is not likely to change how the channel operates anytime soon but it could be the thin end of an important wedge. As the technology market continues to mature, and those selling it build increasingly specialised businesses, it is possible we will see reseller willingness to form partnerships on the rise.