Partners Welcome Cisco Back To The SMB Market With New Mobility Solution Managed On Apple, Android App

Partners say Cisco's new Mobility Express solution targeting small to medium-size deployments opens a new door for the channel to provide the price-sensitive SMB market with a differentiated product to create managed service opportunities.

Cisco touts Express as an enterprise-grade, cost-effective solution tailored for SMBs in spaces like retail, K-12 and hospitality. The solution can be managed through a new Cisco wireless app available on both Apple and Android devices. The networking giant is also releasing a pair of analytics tools that can be deployed in conjunction with Express.

"Cisco has always had a lot of very advanced technologies they've put into their wireless [that are] available to the high-end enterprise, but this solution is going to help bring that to the SMB market segment," said Robert Parsons, senior architect for networking practice at Insight Enterprises, a Tempe, Ariz.-based Cisco Gold partner ranked No. 13 on the CRN 2015 Solution Provider 500 list.

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John Growdon, senior director, data center and enterprise networking for Cisco's global partner organization, said there are opportunities for channel partners around consulting, network design, analytics and managed services.

"It creates a nice platform that our partner community can build additional services around and deliver real value to their customers," said Growdon in an interview with CRN. "With this solution, we're actually filling a void."

Mobility Express is shipped with the company's new Cisco Aironet 1830 or 1850 Series 802.11ac Wave 2 access points, with increased bandwidth for more applications to improve customer density. The solution is deployable in less than 10 minutes, can manage up to 25 access points and can support up to 500 clients, said Rad Sethuraman, senior director of product management for Cisco's Mobility Services, in an interview with CRN. Express also doesn't need a controller appliance.

"What we have done with Express is take that controller function and embed it with that access point, so it makes for a very cost-effective solution," said Sethuraman in an interview with CRN.

Sethuraman said enterprise-grade Wave 2 access points in the market are north of $1,200, and Cisco's Aironet Series "comes much under that in the price point," although he did not give a price.

Express can be configured and managed through Cisco's new wireless mobile app available for Apple iOS and Android devices. The app includes access point details, interference and rogue detection as well as application visibility and local client profiling.

"You get all the visibility in the palm of your hand," said Sethuraman. "More and more people want to do more things on mobile devices -- this app allows them to do a super-fast management of the core network while keeping tabs on how things are going ... in the network."

Partners said the app will be a selling-point differentiation in the market against competitors.

"It's in alignment with the kind of functionality that either small business or small organizations need," said Christine Holloway, vice president of converged infrastructure solutions at CDW, a Vernon Hills, Ill.-based Cisco partner ranked No. 6 on CRN's 2015 SP500. "They're short on resources, wearing many hats, so the ability to provide and sell that will be very important, and customers will find a lot of value in having the ability to have that on a smartphone or tablet."

San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco also released two new analytics tools -- Presence Analytics and Social Analytics -- that track historical and real-time visitor presence and dwell time as well as customer sentiment from Twitter feeds, according to Sethuraman. The Connected Mobile Experiences (CMX 10.2) analytics tools can be deployed in conjunction with Express or across wireless infrastructure in large enterprises, with a deployment time of less than 20 minutes, said Sethuraman.

Holloway says the industry is going to see more capabilities, like analytics, being built into access points.

"Any manufacturer that can provide this type of functionality is going to be a differentiator," said Holloway. "It's a great opportunity right now in the short term and long term for us."

Holloway said the solution puts Cisco in a "much better position" in fast-growing spaces like hospitality and K-12 -- where large school districts and rural institutions are seeking more wireless offerings.

"Cisco won't only be in the large big-box retails, but now also in the small little boutique stocks -- same as hospitality," said Holloway. "It helps us better serve a vertical market that has been challenging to serve because of the requirements they have for ease of use, ease of deployments and really strong price points."

Express is built on a common technology platform that enables the channel to sell investment protection and fuel additional revenue opportunity though "seamless" upgrade paths as customers evolve, according to Growdon. He said the 1830 and 1850 APs can also integrate into a controller-based environment.

"So you can buy these and in the future you can expand up and it works just as well," he said. "You can also scale up from [an] analytics standpoint, if you want to use CMX functionality, so there's lot of growth paths for customers here."

In 2013, Cisco sold its SMB solution Linksys -- which created wireless routers, switches and related equipment -- to Belkin for $500 million. Partners are hailing Cisco's Express solution as a way for partners to re-enter the SMB market while also capturing new managed services revenues inside the price-sensitive SMB market.

"We've seen clients recently in education and retail seeking cost-effective solutions that also are capable of scaling with them," said Parsons. "As a result, they've started to look at a variety of vendors, but this really gives Cisco a strong position with those market segments that are looking for that scalable solution that fits their needs."

In conjunction with Express, Cisco is also updating its Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Wireless certification with a focus on cloud managed and Unified Access wireless architecture, along with 802.11ac access points, controllers and wireless standards.