Cisco Pursues Small Business With Linux Routers

At the heart of many Cisco enterprise routers is its IOS operating system. When it comes to small business, however, Cisco isn’t pushing IOS, which it developed itself — instead, the networking giant is new small business router is powered by Linux.

Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) today announced a new set of small business networking products including the SA 500-series security appliances, designed to provide unified threat management (UTM) capabilities. The SA 500-series routers provide the usual UTM combination of features including firewall, VPN, antispam, URL filtering and antivirus capabilities.

The new routers are not intended to compete against Cisco’s enterprise class routers and are being specifically geared for the need of small-business users with less complexity and easier setup.

The new small business routing push comes as Cisco focuses on small- and midsized businesses (SMB) to help drive its own business during the current recession. During Cisco’s most recent earnings conference call, CEO John Chambers specifically noted small business as a target area for growth.

For Cisco, the choice to avoid relying on IOS for its latest batch of small business products is all about simplicity.

“For us to be able to drive the price points in this market space and the complexity down, these are not IOS-based products,” Mark Monday, Cisco’s vice president and general manager of small business solutions, told “It is a Linux underlying operating system.”

“IOS is a fantastic OS and there is no doubt in my mind that it’s the best OS that can be offered,” Monday added. “For us, to really focus on a partner that’s not necessarily going to invest in learning IOS and all its capabilities, we have to deliver a simpler solution to them. So that’s what we’re really after.”

Monday did not elaborate on the actual Linux kernel or distribution used by Cisco for the SA 500 series.

Cisco is no stranger to Linux or open source technologies. In 2008, Cisco rolled out a Linux powered server card called the AXP (Application eXtension Platform) for its enterprise ISR routers. Cisco is also a contributor to the Linux kernel and has previously told that though it does customize its own Linux for some uses, Cisco is not about to enter the Linux distribution business itself.

The company has offered routing gear to small business customers before — such as the Cisco ASR 1861 series, and some of its ASA security appliances.

But Monday said he does not see the new equipment cannibalizing Cisco’s existing enterprise sales, nor overlapping with existing offerings.

He explained that the new small business focused equipment is being tailored for customers that are just starting to appreciate how networking can help out their businesses. Likewise, he pointed out that the ISR and ASA devices are designed for enterprise branch offices where hundreds of sites could be connected together and there is a need for enterprise-grade support.

Another difference between the new SA 500 series and other Cisco equipment in use among SMBs comes in terms of the new Linux offerings’ focus.

[cob:Special_Report]For instance, Cisco earlier this year rolled out spam and virus blocker hardware technology for SMBs built from its IronPort division.

Monday said the SA 500 also can configured to included e-mail security for up to 100 e-mail users, but the offering is really designed for small businesses that want a unified threat management product — and who aren’t really convinced that they want to spend the money for just e-mail.

“On e-mail security, there is no doubt in my mind that Spam Blocker from IronPort is the best product for the small business,” Monday said. “It is really designed and well suited for groups of 50 users and up.”

“We really differentiate on the fact that Spam Blocker is the best in the business for what it does,” he added. “The SA 500 is a multi-purpose device and is consequently not the best at everything, but it is a really good product for all the things it does.”

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