New Linksys GM To Tackle SMB Via Partners

"When you look at what's happening out there, the channels are the ideal vehicles to deliver to small and [midsize] businesses, particularly the small businesses, because they're really not being served by the high-end enterprise vendors, and up until recently, they've been forced to come to retail to be able to acquire a lot of the solutions they need to serve small business," said Michael Pocock, new senior vice president and general manager in his first interview with CRN since joining the Irvine, Calif.-based company.

Pocock started with Linksys on May 8, taking over for Linksys co-founders Victor and Janie Tsao. The husband and wife team, who previously shared the role Pocock has taken on, are moving into senior vice president roles within Cisco, where they will help the networking giant develop business opportunities in China.

With the changing of the guard, Pocock said his past experience with distributors, VARs and integrators will help Linksys continue its efforts to bulk up its SMB portfolio.

Pocock is probably best known to the channel through his tenure at Compaq Computer, where he served as North American channel chief and later headed up Compaq's worldwide commercial PC business. He most recently served as president and CEO of Polaroid, which he joined in 2003.

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"We have to continue to make strategic investments [in the SMB space] because that market is so large and so untapped, and a lot of VARs I've spoken with just feel like nobody has really come to them and leveraged their skill sets, their expertise in delivering that solution," Pocock said. "I think what I bring to Linksys is a lot of credibility in the channel from the standpoint that I've dealt with them for 25 years, I know the major players, I know how to reach them and how to listen to them."

It's expertise that should come in handy as Linksys forges ahead with the rollout of its Linksys One small-business division, launched in November as part of the company's effort to move beyond its traditional consumer/ SOHO focus. The cornerstone of the division is the Linksys One IP communications platform designed to work with hosted VoIP offerings from service providers.

The Linksys One strategy calls for VARs to sell Linksys hardware bundled with hosted VoIP services from carriers and other service providers in exchange for monthly commissions.

Network integrator Digitel, Atlanta, is on tap to offer hosted VoIP services through Linksys One channel partners via its NeoNova Network Services division. Jerry Bailey, president and COO of Digitel, said he's pleased with the progress of Linksys One thus far.

"You'll see some activity starting in June or July where you'll see Cisco and Linksys start marketing to VARs," Bailey said.

Linksys has said nationwide rollout of Linksys One is slated for the fall. However, some partners are losing faith that Linksys One will hit the mark.

Early concerns arose after MCI, Linksys' primary service provider partner in the rollout, was acquired by Verizon. Some partners questioned Verizon's commitment to the program and fear that the acquisition will lead to delays of Linksys One. Verizon, Basking Ridge, N.J., has said it is committed to the program.

In addition, some channel partners given a sneak peek at an early version of the Linksys One product line earlier this year said it fell short of expectations.

One solution provider who requested anonymity said although he doesn't expect his relationship with Linksys to change, he hopes the new leadership will affect the outcome of products such as Linksys One.

"Linksys One has missed the mark, and we've pretty much lost hope," he said. "Linksys has been responsive to our concerns, but I still don't know what the market is with that product because the features aren't as rich as other VoIP products that are similarly priced."

Janie Tsao said that as she prepares to leave Linksys, she's comfortable with the progress made in the Linksys One rollout.

"It's a full solution, and when a full solution comes along, it naturally takes longer than just creating a box. We are working on a carrier-class product, so we have to go through the process of testing and getting the services ready," she said. "We feel comfortable with the service partners that are signing up right now that we will be coming out and making additional announcements to our channel partners later in the year to let them know how they can sell the product."

KEVIN MCLAUGHLIN contributed to this story.