I came away from this part of the discussion with two primary thoughts on Cisco's plans. First, all the talk of VPs and business units has the initial sound of furniture shuffling, but it does represent a significant investment in trying to sell products to small businesses. It indicates that this isn't a short-term project for the company, but a real change in the way they look at this market. Next, the rather obvious statement that small businesses require a different sort of technical support than large enterprise technical teams indicates that Cisco is looking at the market with a bit of realism. Each of these is a pretty good sign if you're a small business owner thinking about switching your network infrastructure to Cisco.
The first two changes Cisco is making, mentioned above, are to a certain extent "inside baseball" -- changes that will be seen more by their effects on the market than as things that are visible to customers. The next two changes, though, will be very visible. Cisco is bringing out two new product lines: Cisco Small Business and Cisco Small Business Pro. The businesses that aren’t afraid of deploying their own networks may go to Best Buy and get something off the shelf from the Small Business Line. The partners who sell to small businesses will end up buying from the Small Business Pro line. To recap: off-the-shelf means Cisco Small Business; from an integrator means Small Business Pro.
The announcement were were discussing didn't involve any new products, just the new product lines. So where are the products coming from? Cisco is combining the Linksys Small Business Organization and the Cisco Small Business Organization. Over time, the Linksys Small Business line will be converted into the Cisco Small Business and Small Business Pro line. As products in the Linksys line age out, they’ll be replaced by the Cisco products. The first products under the Cisco Small Business and Small Business Pro lines will start appearing in the fourth quarter of this year, and Mark says that there are lots of products coming out in the next six to eight months.
So how will the Small Business and Small Business Pro products differ? All of the products in the small business line will have a Web interface with a consistent look and feel. If you install the Small Business access point and want to install the Small Business switch, you’ll be familiar with the configuration and administration interfaces. In the Small Business Pro line you're likely to be faced with Cisco's IOS, although Mark told me it’s possible you’ll have a single tool that will let you configure and manage all the products and allow for some unified configuration and administration.