Frustrating companies – Cisco

Cisco make plenty of networking hardware, ranging from the small stuff for small business (let’s ignore the Linksys stuff badges as Cisco for now), to the really big stuff, suitable for the busiest networks. Within each product type (routers, switches etc) there are many products. Each product can then have many different models, with differing hardware capabilities. Each model can then have several software levels, each unlocking differing levels of functionality. Each product can also have many accessories, such as interface cards for connection to different network types. In short, there’s a lot of choice, which gives a lot of flexibility, which is obviously a good thing. However, there’s almost no useful help for the uninitiated on Cisco’s website. If you have a simple requirement (e.g. wanting a router for small business with an ADSL interface suitable for the UK, which has both VPN and IDS capabilities), then there’s virtually nothing to help you. If you try to work it out on your own, you’ll need to spend a lot of time reading the product specifications a documentation on the Cisco website. Sadly all this information is scattered all over the website in what seems like a shotgun approach.
So if you’re a small business, and you’re time is too precious to spend doing all this research, then surely Cisco will have a range of partners who will be able to answer the question for you. Well yes, they have authorised partners, but you get the distinct impression that these are partners for people who want to implement a substantial network infrastructure, and are happy to spend five or six, or maybe even seven figure sums doing so. At least in the UK.
Cisco also seem to be missing a trick with Smartnet, their support service. Some companies push their support services from the moment you start looking at their products, which Canberra annoying if you don’t the additional support. With Cisco it’s almost the opposite. Their support offering does appear to be good (it has a reputation for being superb), although unsurprisingly it’s not the cheapest. However it barely gets a mention, and you virtually have to hunt for it on the website. Additionally, some products support a “call home” feature, where Cisco will proactively alert you to problems. If you don’t stumble across this by accident, then you probably never find out about it.
Finally, you know when you buy a Cisco product that it won’t be cheap, but £60 for a router rackmount kit, which consists of two pieces of bent steel and eight small screws really is taking the piss!

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