Cisco's Linksys phaseout moving along

Linksys brand may disappear sooner than expected, replaced by a product category similar to the Catalyst series of switches or WebEx conferencing services

Cisco Systems' Linksys brand may disappear sooner than expected, according to a top executive for small business at the company, although he wouldn't say how quickly.

The company sells networking gear for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) under both the Cisco and Linksys brands, which has created some confusion, vice president of SMB Solutions Marketing Rick Moran acknowledged in an interview on Monday. Linksys was a successful vendor of home and SMB networking gear that Cisco acquired in 2003. There are routers, wireless LANs, and other products under both brands that are aimed at small enterprises.

Chairman and CEO John Chambers said last year during a roundtable with European media, captured in a YouTube video, that Linksys would disappear under the Cisco brand over time. Linksys followed up by saying its brand wasn't going anywhere in the near term.

Cisco had already moved to allow its SMB channel partners to sell both Cisco and Linksys products, starting about a year ago, but in the process found out most of them didn't want to carry both, Moran said. Those that sold Cisco gear weren't interested in selling the simpler Linksys products because they wanted to sell their customers system integration services, and Linksys resellers were more geared toward selling individual products, he said.

Now Cisco is working to clear up the confusion by modifying its SMB Web site and having Cisco and Linksys product teams work more closely together, Moran said. Their product road maps are now aligned, he said. But there will still be an evolution toward one brand.

"It will be shorter than you think," Moran said. The evolution is likely to happen first outside the U.S., where Linksys products are sold but Cisco hasn't spent any money building up that brand, he added.

The Linksys brand ultimately will be replaced by a product category, similar to the Catalyst series of switches or WebEx conferencing services, which Cisco acquired last year, he said. The company has worked out how to do so without "orphaning" the Linksys name, according to Moran. Cisco won't leave any of the channels that now carry its SMB products: retail, distributors, small value-added resellers, and service providers. The key difference will remain support.

"We need a definition to say there's a difference in the support model that goes behind them," Moran said. Cisco products are known for extensive support, while Linksys gear is designed for ease of use out of the box.

Also on Monday, Moran said the SMB market is "a challenge" in the ailing U.S. economy, but that Cisco has gained elsewhere from the relative weakness of the dollar. And his own research has shown that over the past 40 years, small businesses have led recoveries in both the U.S. and Europe.

"The first people to slow down spending are SMBs, but the first people to start back, even before the recovery is noticeable, are small businesses," he said.

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