SMBs Can Go Mobile-First, Too
Cisco brings enterprise-class mobility capabilities down market with introduction of SMB-focused Mobility Express bundle.
If you've read my posts here at No Jitter over the past few years, you'll know that I've been fairly critical of the way our industry defines mobility. Being mobile is more than having a mobile device in your hand. It requires a different way of thinking, as I wrote in an April piece, Businesses Need to 'Think Mobile' to Be Mobile. A mobile-first strategy means always considering the unique capabilities of mobility and using those to create differentiated features.
While I'll likely continue to maintain my skeptical position when I hear about mobile this and mobile that, I do believe mindsets are starting to change. As I talk with businesses these days, I'm started to hear more and more often from those that are trying to eat, drink, and sleep mobile.
On the downside, the majority of mobility solutions available today are for large enterprises. This has left mobility-minded small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) wanting. But this is starting to change, too.
In a blog posted this morning, Cisco announced the expansion of its Mobility Express line with a complete solution aimed at delivering enterprise-class Wi-Fi to SMBs. While we often characterize "enterprises" and "SMBs" differently, the fact is that smaller businesses are facing similar mobile challenges as large companies. They, too, are grappling with how to handle the increased use of consumer devices, new engagement models, mobile workers, and the need to connect the unconnected while they contend with less time and constrained budgets.
This latest Mobility Express solution comprises access points (APs), a management interface, and analytics tools. It offers:
- Simplified deployment - Cisco infrastructure technology has a reputation, particularly among the less technical IT personnel in small companies, of being great but hard to set up. With this Mobility Express solution, SMB IT managers can now deploy Wi-Fi infrastructure through a set-up wizard. The wizard removes the complexity, cutting deployment time down to 10 minutes, Cisco said. As another plus, this Mobility Express solution does not require use of a dedicated controller for AP management. But should the deployment scale to the point at which the company would like to use a dedicated controller, that's an easy change. It can simply move the network to a controller without having to change APs.
- A mobile application for management - Cisco created iOS- and Android-based applications for remote mobile management. The applications provide details and health information about the APs and clients, as well as give a look at application visibility, interference detection, local client profiling, and rogue detection. Being able to keep tabs on the mobile infrastructure while working remotely should be a big boon to SMB IT departments, which typically are small.
- Support for 802.11ac - The Mobility Express bundle includes Cisco Aironet 1830 or 1850 Series 802.11ac Wave 2 APs. Typically companies upgrade Wi-Fi every 18 to 24 months, so using the latest technology means staving off a network upgrade for a couple of years. If you've been following the evolution of Wi-Fi standards, then you know Wave 2 breaks the Gig Ethernet barrier -- enabling Wi-Fi speeds to exceed wired speeds for the first time. Wave 2 also includes multiuser MIMO, which dedicates Wi-Fi signal on a per-user basis, and features dual spatial streams and beam forming. With Wave 2, the Wi-Fi network gets switch-like performance (whereas older Wi-Fi versions act more like hubs). Switch-like performance is a key enabler of the mobile-first business. No matter how good a company's intentions, if the underlying network doesn't support the demands of mobility, then the business will never get there. One additional note, the Mobility Express management cluster does support Wave 1 and 802.11n APs, as well. This means companies can continue to use those APs as they bring in Wave 2 where required.
In addition to the Wi-Fi APs and management features, Cisco has bundled in a number of analytic tools aimed at delivering actionable business intelligence from the wireless network. This move dovetails with my long-held belief that data culled from the wireless network will provide the foundation for customer and employee engagement.
As part of this announcement, Cisco is releasing Connected Mobile Experiences (CMX) 10.2, which includes two new analytic tools: presence analytics and social analytics. Social analytics gathers customer sentiment information from Twitter feeds. Presence analytics provides visitor information such as location, dwell time, busiest hour, number of connected visitors, peak traffic time, passersby versus visitors, and other information.
With the combination of the two, businesses should be able to get an understanding of what people are doing while connected to Wi-Fi, then using that information to engage them in personalized, differentiated ways. Consistent with the "simplicity" theme of this announcement, CMX includes an expanded library of templates that should enable SMBs to begin accessing and using analytics reports in short order.
This Cisco Mobility Express bundle is a great solution for SMBs as it brings enterprise-class features down market in a package that allows for quick and easy deployment.
On the flip, this is an important offering for Cisco, too. The SMB space is highly fragmented, with no clear leader. Most of the companies I've talked to in this segment like Cisco stuff but the complexity of the technology causes them to look elsewhere. Cisco has been working steadily to make its products easier to buy, deploy, and manage -- and this is a good example of the company's efforts today.