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Cisco targets midmarket with Smart Business Architecture

The networking vendor says the midmarket-optimized Smart Business Architecture will mean significant dollar and time savings for Cisco partners

After introducing the Smart Business Architecture (SBA) program to partners at is channel conference last June in Boston, Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO) says the SBA is now in the field and is making a difference for partners in the competitive midmarket arena.

Designed around the unique networking needs of businesses of 250 to 1000 users, Cisco’s SBA is designed to take the vendor’s current large and diverse product portfolio and distill it down into a modular, scalable and affordable set of solutions optimized for the midmarket with a value proposition that’s easier for customers to grasp and an architecture that’s easier for partners to implement.

“Our midmarket customers identify very much with Cisco’s innovation strategy,” said Joel Conover, senior manager of solution marketing for Cisco. “They want to be able to apply all the technologies that enable business agility and let them do more, but they’re hampered by a small IT staff. They have all the requirements of a big company but the budget of a small company.”

Midmarket companies want to do more, said Conover, but they need to be able to justify the investment and they need a path to return in investment. With SBA, Cisco wanted to provide a systemic approach to enable a Cisco-based IT infrastructure, selecting the right products for specific solution plays to provide a validated solution for the midmarket.

“A lot of times it became so complex our customers would throw their hands up and say I don’t get this, it’s too complicated,” said Conover. “A lot of customers tell us don’t give us a switch with 1000 ports when we only need 50. It’s choosing the right product.”

With SBA, Cisco has aimed to connect technology to business requirements. Solutions are validated by Cisco in its labs so partners can be confident in the configurations, and they’re designed to be modular so customers can easily build more features on down the road. For example, the configuration for Unified Communications is already done, and just needs to be turned on.

The SBA resources include an At-a-Glance high-level document, a 12-15 page Design Guide, a 50-page Deployment Guide, and a 50-page Deployment Reference. It includes a number of baseline technologies, including Routing & Switching, WAN Optimization, Wireless and Security.

For partners, said Conover, the SBA is a guide of best practices and instructions that makes it much easier for them to implement optimized midmarket solutions for their customers. The configuration reference includes router settings that can be cut and pasted, with just the IP address needing to be set, for example.

“Partners are telling us they think they can save 50 to 60 per cent of their time in design, discovery, and implementation (with SBA),” said Conover.

He added the skills shortage, and the ability of partners to invest in high-level Cisco certifications such as the Cisco Certified Internet Expert certification (CCIE), was a motivator behind the SBA program.

“Instead of a partner having to send 3 CCIEs to deploy a 1000 node network they can send one CCIE and two junior engineers, and do the same deployment half time,” said Conover.

In addition, Conover said while partners were already developing much of this best practice and implementation guide material on their own, they told Cisco they didn’t have the resources to maintain them.

“Partners were already doing it but they had to update it every time we released a new product, and it was a lot to do,” said Conover. “They told us if you want us to sell Cisco products, you do it.”

It was about a month ago that SBA got into the hands of IOSecure Internet Operations, a Vancouver-based Cisco Premier partner and consultancy with four CCIEs on its staff of 12,

“It’s about time,” was the reaction of IOSecure’s president, Tom Jacoby, to the launch of SBA. “We’ve been dealing with some of the enterprise architectures for awhile and it’s overwhelming for the midmarket.”

Jacoby said SBA gives IOSecure a simpler starting-point to have conversations with clients, and coming from Cisco it has more credibility than referring to work the partner has done itself. While IOSecure has been developing its own best practices, he said that’s an expensive and time-consuming process.

“I think this is a sign of the market maturing,” said Jacoby.

For IOSecure, he believes SBA will allow the partner to keep more customers going in the sales pipeline. Configuring and putting together a proposal, especially for unified communications, can be challenging, said Jacoby. Finding the right Smart Net SKUs, getting the right licenses for the phones, ensuring you have the power and bandwidth – all challenges SBA already solves.

“It does make life easier,” said Jacoby. “Even if we still send three CCIEs, they can do it in one quarter the time.”