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When enterprise networking giant Cisco Systems acquired SMB-oriented networking rival Linksys, many wondered where the relationship would go. Would Cisco leave Linksys to service the SMB market, and continue to focus on the enterprise? Or would Cisco just gobble up Linksys and create Cisco branded products for the consumer market?

Surprisingly, the outcome hasn’t really gone fully one way or the other. Cisco has left Linksys somewhat intact, but has rebranded the company’s product line into “Linksys by Cisco,” preserving both well-known names while identifying Linksys as something different from Cisco. Now, Cisco is aiming to put Linksys dead center into the small business security market by adding another well-known name–Trend Micro.

Cisco’s Frankenstein-like experiment to meld Trend Micro’s security services into Linksys’s SMB routers has given birth to the “Trend Micro & Cisco Home Network Defender.”

While hybrid security solutions are not new, what is new here is Cisco’s interest in the small and home office. For the channel, the big question becomes “is Linksys by Cisco a friend or foe of the channel”? To answer that question, one has to take a good look at the products offered, the target market and the channel players affected.

The Trend Micro & Cisco Home Network Defender product consists of a Linksys by Cisco WRT310N Wireless router (or alternatively, a WRT160N) which has an embedded version of Home Network Defender, which works in concert with the Trend Micro Smart Protection Network. The idea behind the product is to give protection from Internet-borne threats by preventing access to malicious Web sites, filtering restricted URLs, controlling content and deploying desktop antimalware.

The product is designed with ease of use in mind and uses an ultra simple setup wizard to get things started. The product includes four licenses of Trend Micro Antivirus/AntiSpyware desktop software, which is installed on the network-attached PCs.

Worth noting is the GUI interface offered by the management software. The management software is called EasyLink Advisor and gives a visual representation of all hardware connected on the network. Hardware can be viewed in either an attractive map format or on a list. If the administrator wants to change the security settings on a connected PC, all they have to do is right click on that PC and a wizard can be launched that easily changes content filtering settings, access policies and most anything else that has to do with keeping connectivity secure. The management screen does an excellent job of identifying attached hardware and even provides manufacturer specific information.

To use the safe Web surfing features, an account must be created on the Network Defender site, of course that’s a simple chore thanks to the account creation wizard. Web filtering is based upon both category lists and reputation scoring, which is kept constantly up to date on the Trend Micro service servers. A year’s subscription that protects four PCs costs $59.95, which is quite reasonable considering all that’s included.

For solution providers, there’s not much margin to be realized on selling the product and there are no recurring revenues from subscriptions. While at first blush, that seems to exclude solution providers from Cisco’s intended market, the small or home office, a realm that solution providers tend to be very successful in.

Solution providers should consider the Trend Micro & Cisco Home Network Defender products as an entry point into small network security and instead of trying to sell the product, offer it up as part of a connectivity bundle or as a means to introduce basic security for those looking to accomplish that as inexpensively as possible. The product is clearly good enough to do what it is meant to do and it is simple enough for the neophyte PC user to understand. While that may be counter intuitive to what a solution provider is looking to accomplish, it is still a clear sign of the times and where small network security is headed – inexpensive, hybrid devices that leverage subscriptions.

All things considered, Cisco has created a product that is sure to garner attention in the small business networking market and home network market. Even so, the product only covers some security concerns – solution providers will also need to educate their customers on the problems created by spam, intrusion attempts and P2P applications. That is where the product currently falls short and still leaves some opportunity for the small business VAR.