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Cisco is still extremely keen on the small business market one year after dropping $100 million into a new unit specializing in pitching product to companies with fewer than 100 employees.

To go along with the one-year milestone, the network giant is trotting out a fresh stable of small business-oriented products and upgrades — along with some additional support programs for the army of resellers that Cisco relies upon to reach baby biz customers.

Beginning on the hardware side, Cisco is debuting what it claims to be the industry's first 802.11n dual-band clustering access point built for small businesses (and we suppose those qualifications are specific enough to be true). The clustering kit allows for easier setup and installation of wireless access points when there's multiple units involved, explains Andrew Sage, veep of Cisco's small business worldwide sales.

Earlier incarnations of Cisco's access points require individual configuration for each unit or alternatively, moving to a more expensive, controller-based technology better suited for the mid-to-enterprise, he said. The AP 541N lets users configure just one access point, then add up to 10 other units that draw upon the configuration of the existing access point to expand the network.

The AP 541N has a US list price of $500. The device is currently available in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

Next up, Cisco's SPA 525G IP phones are receiving a firmware update that allows easy tele-snooping over its LCD display, plus an instant connection to a company's VoIP network no matter where the phone is plugged in.

New to the SPA 525G is the ability to use the phone to display a live video feed from any Cisco small business security camera. Apparently this function works nicely when attaching a camera at the front door of an office so any phone on the network can get an eyeful of arriving visitors. The phone even has a feature to open a door's deadbolt remotely, said Sage. What haunted house is complete without one?

The IP phone is also being outfitted with integrated VPN technology. The new functionality allows a worker to connect to a company's private branch exchange (PBX) securely over almost any broadband network.

"You can take the phone, plunk it down on a desk, connect it to any broadband connection, and it will find its way back to your main office PBX and become an extension on that PBX system — for all intents and purposes as if you were local to it," said Sage.

While Sage says it unlikely workers will be packing their office phone with them on vacation, the company expects the feature will find its place with businesses that want to expand their locations without starting a whole new branch office.

The Cisco MonitorView and VPN Support are firmware upgrades for customers with a service contract. The SPA 525G phones begin at $430 and are available in most countries except China and Japan.

Cisco's SA 500 Series security appliances are also getting new features, composed of an intrusion prevention system to monitor the network for malicious or unwanted activities, a Cisco ProtectLink Gateway to block attacks through a hosted service integrating web filtering technologies, and expanding Cisco ProtectLink EndPoint to Windows PCs for preventing users from accessing the web if their security levels aren't up-to-date.

The enhancements are available as licenses. The IPS system is a $150 license; Protect Gateway $178 for a five-user license; and ProtectLink Endpoint is $185 for a five-user license. Adding IPS and ProtectLink Endpoint functionality requires a firmware update that Cisco plans to make available late December.

Next comes some Cisco smooches for resellers.

The company is debuting a new small business communications package that allows service providers and partners to create and deploy managed data, voice, and security services targeted at small business.

The Cisco Hosted Small Business Communications platform includes the new Cisco SRP 500 Series Services Ready Platforms, Cisco switches, and IP phones.

"Our most profitable partners are those who include voice in their offer," said Sage. "There's a lot of great services opportunities and new technologies that's bringing unified communications and IP voice down into the small business customer space," said Sage.

Cisco SRP 500 starts at $250. Cisco's Hosted Small Business Communications prices vary depending on the region, configuration, and number of users. Both are currently available in the US, Canada, and Europe.

For reseller support, Cisco is launching a partner service for tutoring resellers on Cisco small business products.

The new Cisco Partner Design Support service offers assistance in the design, installation, and configuration stages of setting up Cisco small business solutions. It provides Cisco partners with access to a team of Cisco engineers via phone or online chat when needed.

Cisco is also rolling out four-hour hardware replacement service and 24-hour technical support that covers the company's Small Business Pro products. Sage said the support will let partners quickly resolve problems by deferring to Cisco in the background while remaining the front-end of customer service. ®

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