Eager to push deeper into the SMB market, Cisco Systems has unveiled two unified communications solutions for the small and midsize business markets that cost about $100 to $165 per user, as well as a WebEx reseller program. Plus, the networking giant is offering three-year, zero percent financing in some areas. Will channel partners answer the call for help? And how does Cisco plan to compete against emerging hosted PBX solutions for the small business market? Cisco's Andrew Sage (pictured), VP of worldwide Small Business Sales, and other Cisco experts share perspectives with The VAR Guy.

First, the straight news. At Cisco Partner Summit 2011, the networking giant unveiled...
  • The Unified Communications 300 Series supports IP telephony, wired and wireless connections, voicemail and an automated attendant. It costs approximately $165 per user. Cisco Capital is offering the special zero percent financing in the U.S., Canada and United Kingdom through the end of July 2011.
  • The Unified Communications Managed Business Edition 3000, which supports up to 300 users across 10 sites. It costs approximately $100 per user.
  • The Cisco Partner Advisor, designed for small business and mid-market partners that need personalized sales support via click-to-chat or phone. It seeks to support 24,000 partners worldwide with global centers in Raleigh, N.C., and Lisbon, Portugal. It's a global rollout with support for seven languages according to Cisco's Andrew Sage. The Cisco Partner Advisor launched about two weeks ago, Sage said.
  • Partner-led Cisco WebEx Online Services that partners can resell into customer settings.
In a smart move, Cisco says it seems the small business market and the mid-market as two distinctly different markets. The company is therefore designing products; services and support; and partner enablement efforts to focus on the two distinct markets.

The Real Deal?

Sounds great on paper. But can Cisco really push deeper into the SMB market? Connected WorkPlace Solutions -- a managed services provider in the Washington, D.C., area -- sure seems to think so. Indeed, Connected WorkPlace Solutions plans to resell Cisco's SMB unified communications solutions, and then wrap managed services contracts around those solutions, according to Jason Waldrop, CEO of CWPS. Even as IT products become simplified Waldrop sees opportunities for profits. "We see small businesses becoming allergic to in-house IT," said Waldrop. "Customers want not just a VoIP solution but everything else. For me, we deploy the UC 500 and we wrap managed services around it. But then we also get pull-through for managed servers, managed desktops and managed backup services."

During a press conference at Cisco Partner Summit today, two additional Cisco solutions providers vowed to support the Cisco SMB unified communication systems. They were:
  • Laurent Silvestri, founder and general manager of Open IP in France.
  • Ringo Chan, CEO of Wafer Systems Ltd. (Hong Kong and Mainland, China).

Rivals Everywhere

Cisco's partners certainly sound upbeat. But competition looms on multiple fronts. Disruptive technologies like Asterisk -- the open source IP PBX -- have caught on with some businesses. And a growing number of channel partners are exploring hosted PBX solutions. Just last week, Parallels announced a major hosted PBX push aimed at the SMB market.

During a Q&A session, Cisco executives said the company will also work with service providers to promote third-party hosted PBX solutions. However, Cisco vowed not to build hosted PBX data centers of its own. And Waldrop, the MSP, said he's yet to find a hosted PBX solution that offers the right mix of features and functions at the appropriate prices.

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