Collaboration Commitment? Cisco SMB Partners Not Feeling The Love


Cisco Systems, for years, has assured partners that its sights are firmly set on becoming a powerhouse in the SMB market. But in the wake of the networking giant's decision to discontinue two of its flagship SMB products, some partners are questioning whether that enthusiasm is starting to wane.

"Given the kind of push Cisco has made in [SMB], for those of us who have really invested in it, we feel kind of left out," said the vice president of one SMB-focused Cisco solution provider who asked not to be named.

Cisco last year revealed plans to halt sales of its Unified Communications 500 and Business Edition 3000 collaboration offerings for the SMB market. Cisco first issued an end-of-life  announcement for the UC500 and BE3000 in 2013 and, as of Jan. 20, 2014, officially stopped selling the products.

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Cisco SMB partners tell CRN that despite the growth they are seeing around other Cisco SMB product lines, such as the Cisco 300 and 500 Series switches, the holes left in their portfolios by the discontinued UC500 and BE3000 are significant.

"They have discontinued both of those boxes, which we had sold a significant amount of, and now I feel like [Cisco] is just bailing on our customers in that space," said the Cisco SMB partner.

The partner said his business sells 100 percent into the SMB market and had considered the UC500 and BE3000 the "perfect" Cisco products for his customer segment. The partner said he still has more than 50 customers using either of the products today.

The BE3000, as Cisco described it, was designed for midsize businesses with limited IT resources, bundling voice, conferencing, mobility, messaging features and voice gateway services onto a single appliance.

The UC500 also was designed for organizations with smaller IT footprints, combining voice, data, video and secure routing capabilities onto a single box. 

Cisco, the partner continued, is positioning the higher-end Business Edition 6000 (BE6000) platform as the replacement for the UC500 and BE3000 but, because the BE6000 isn't designed to scale below 25 users, it's not always a good fit for smaller clients. And even when it is, he said, the BE6000 takes "ten times" longer to implement and deploy than the BE3000, making it a more difficult product to sell and support as a smaller solution provider. 

"I don't really have a good upgrade path, other than the BE6000 product, which is far too big for a lot of our clients," the partner told CRN.  

Several partners are attempting to move upstream by selling the BE6000, while others say they are being forced to seek out options from Cisco competitors that are better suited for the sub-25-seat market.

"I don't think we are going to have any choice but to look for other partners," said the solution provider. "We don't have a Cisco product that fits this space."

The solution provider said his Cisco business as a whole was down in 2013, but declined to cite specific numbers. He also said he's noticed a high level of turnover among his Cisco account managers, which is making it harder to do business with the networking giant than it has been in the past.

"They don't have the emphasis they did two years ago around SMB," the partner told CRN.

Other Cisco partners, it seems, are similarly scrambling for other voice and UC products to fill the gap left in their portfolios by the discontinuation of the UC500 and BE3000.

"I think [Cisco] made a very huge, strategic mistake getting rid of the BE3000," said the CEO of a Silver-level Cisco partner, who also asked not to be named.

Like the other solution provider, the CEO said the BE6000 has been "impossible to justify" for clients with fewer than 25 seats, not because it's drastically more expensive than the BE3000, but because it takes longer to deploy.

"The deployment costs are what kill you on [the BE6000] deal," said the partner, who does about half of his overall business in SMB. "The pricing of the product isn’t so bad, but it takes a long time to deploy. So, from a VAR perspective, for us to do the work, we have to charge more for us to get it done, which kills the deal.

"We just picked up another partnership with another phone vendor for those smaller-end deals. I love Cisco's products, and have a lot invested in them. But at the end of the day, I have to make money to pay my people," the CEO continued.

A third Cisco partner, who also requested anonymity, said his company is "leaning heavily" toward Barracuda Networks' CudaTel communications server as a replacement for the BE3000 and UC500.

"In one word, we're 'confused,' " said the partner, president of an SMB-focused Cisco solution provider. "We sold a lot of [Cisco's] UC500 phone systems, and I guess they are touting the BE6000 as their SMB-up-to-enterprise phone system, but we don't see it scaling that small. To be honest with you, we are scrambling to be able to address that space."

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