Cisco adds a new midmarket arrow to its quiver

At its Partner Summit, Cisco's midmarket opportunity became clear.

This week Cisco held its annual reseller event, known as "Partner Summit." I attended the first day of the event and much of the focus from the management team at the conference was on the midmarket opportunity for Cisco. While Cisco dominates the enterprise networking landscape, the midmarket is much more fragmented and presents a high-growth opportunity for Cisco.

To support the midmarket focus, Cisco announced an upgrade to its Catalyst 2000 switch line. While the Catalyst 4000 and 6000 series often steal much of the spotlight, the 2000 series has been Cisco’s best-selling Ethernet switch line based on number of units shipped and by port count, so any addition to this product line will be well received by channel partners and customers.

The newly announced Catalyst 2960-X stackable Ethernet switch is an upgrade to the currently shipping 2960-S/SF switch, which is a little over three years old now, so an upgrade to the product was due. The new Catalyst 2960-X comes in two flavors – a 24-port version and 48-port switch, both with 10 Gig-E uplinks with a total capacity of 80 Gigs for the stack. For most midmarket companies, this should be plenty of capacity for their current networking needs, but also into the future as mobility, BYOD and unified communications become more prevalent.

One of the big enhancements to the 2960-X is that it’s onePK compliant. For those who aren’t familiar, onePK is Cisco’s programming interface for its implementation of software-defined networks. Enabling onePK on access switches allows Cisco to push its SDN story across the entire network instead of just limiting it to the data center. During one of the keynotes, Cisco talked about the value proposition of SDNs being to simplify network operations. This is something that should have great appeal in midmarket organizations as the IT departments in companies of that size tend to be small as an overall percentage of company size, so automation can play a key role in scaling IT.

The new products were also designed with power efficiency in mind. From Cisco’s calculations, the 2960-X switches use up to 80% less power than comparative switches. The company accomplished this by cutting the per-port power from 2 watts on the S/SF model to 0.9 watts on the X. Greater energy efficiency is also achieved from the implementation of the IEEE Energy Efficient Ethernet standard combined with EngergyWise features. Customers of the 2960-X can turn on two energy saving “hibernation” modes during periods of inactivity, such as planned downtime or after hours. Downlink mode effectively powers down less active links and switch mode will power the entire switch itself.

While the majority of domestic organizations do not make energy efficiency a part of their buying criteria, I can see the energy savings features having great appeal in other markets such as Asia-Pacific or emerging market countries. Power can be much higher as an overall percentage of IT spend in these regions, and a product designed to use 80% less power can have a big impact on a company’s bottom line – particularly budget-strapped midmarket companies.

Considering the popularity of the 2960 S/SF, the new 2960-X should be a core product in the stronger push Cisco will be making into the midmarket, as outlined at this year’s Partner Summit.

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