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Linksys brings enhanced security to SMB routers

The networking vendor also sees channel opportunity around IP-based video surveillance for SMBs

Saying the biggest problem he has is the perception that Linksys is just a consumer company, Linksys Canada channel manager Bob Martin outlined the networking vendor’s recent initiatives to drive channel business in the SMB space.

Speaking at ASI Canada‘s Tech Expo 2008 last week in Richmond Hill, Ont., Martin outlined a number of initiatives on both the consumer and the commercial front at Linksys, a division of networking vendor Cisco Systems, including a partnership with security vendor Trend Micro and solutions around IP-based video surveillance.

Noting that Cisco and Linksys combined can boast an 80 per cent share of the SMB wireless market, Martin said the biggest problem he has is the perception that Linksys is just a consumer company.

While Linksys does produce popular consumer-grade products, Martin said Linksys also has a rich portfolio of commercial products sold exclusively through distribution and the VAR channel. While many SMBs think they can get by with a consumer-grade product from Best Buy, Martin said the challenge for the channel is to educate SMBs on why they need the functionality and robustness of channel-based commercial-grade solutions.

Linksys has recently moved to fill one hole in its commercial line-up through a partnership with security vendor Trend Micro. “Partner feedback told us we were missing security features that other vendors had in their routers, such as spam filtering and URL filtering,” said Martin.

Adding such capabilities to Linksys routers would have made them more like appliances and required complicated firmware updates; Martin adds they also weren’t keen to change something that was working well. The solution was a hosted service: Trend Micro ProtectLink Gateway.

Martin said a small firmware update is made to the router, a license key is entered on the set-up page, and the software is activated without a new hardware purchase. Everything that comes through the router is now checked at the Trend Micro Gateway site, which has four mirrors around the world for a high level of redundancy. The hosted model also means new threats are protected against immediately.

It’s an easy pitch to clients, said Martin, and another chance for the partner to talk to them about their network and security.

“The way you make money is you sell the software, you configure it, and it’s a subscription so you get the annual subscription revenue too, and you’ve got a customer forever,” said Martin. “Every time you sell one its ongoing revenue.”

Another partner advantage being enabled through Linksys routers is remote management. A partner can remote access into a client router, and on into their network, from anywhere. So if a client calls with trouble while the partner is at a coffee shop, they need only fire-up their laptop, enter the system, and solve the issue.

“The customer doesn’t care if you have to drive across town or just walk across the room, they just want their problem fixed,” said Martin.

Another area where Linksys sees strong channel opportunity is around its IP-based video surveillance solutions, offering product revenue and strong margin, as well as service revenue. It’s an area that used to be dominated by the CCTV channel, but Martin said the IT channel can be 50 per cent more competitive with the same margins.

A big reason for that, he said, is that there’s no need to sell clients cabling for an IP-based network, as they already have one to run their IT systems. That’s a big percentage of the CCTV system cost. There’s also no need to sell them PCs to run the system; they already have PCs.

Linksys offers a range of cameras with strong margins, along with supporting software and storage. Partners come in and install the cameras and configure the software for the client, and can set their own price.

“The way I look at is I’m supplying you components to build your own solution going forward,” said Martin.

On the consumer side, Linksys has redesigned all its commercial routers, dumping the blue and black design for a sleek black casing. Also gone are the “rabbit ear” antennas; instead six or eight small antennas will be inside the box which, besides looking better, will also allow better performance.

Linksys has also launched Linksys Easy Link Advisor (LELA), software that makes it easier to set up and configure a home network. Leveraging Cisco’s acquisition of WebEx, LELA also includes a built-in WebEx client that allows a user to contact a technician at the press of a button that can take over your PC and fix any issues directly.

“It just walks you right through, you don’t need to know anything about WEP or WEPA,” said Martin, noting customers want wireless to be as easy as using the phone. “LELA is going to be a major differentiator for us, and it’s going to be the future of home networking.”