Cisco is aiming for the small business market with two new LAN switches and a graphical management application.

The Catalyst 4503 modular switch and the Catalyst 4948 rack-mounted server switch are designed to meet small and medium businesses' growing need for network resiliency and to support technologies such as wireless LANs and IP telephony, said John McCool, general manager of Cisco's Gigabit Systems Business Unit.

The Cisco Network Assistant (CNA) software introduced along with the switches is intended to open up management of Cisco switches, routers and wireless access points to those who lack the training to use Cisco's CLI (command-line interface.) CNA provides a graphical interface for tasks such as designating switch ports for IP telephony and dividing up a physical LAN into separate virtual LANs for different groups.

One company hoping to benefit from the new interface is Watt Commercial Properties. According to Dan Campbell, chief information officer at the real estate company, the IT staff at aren't able to use the CLI, so the company has had to bring in outside engineers for some tasks. Now, that work can be shifted to in-house employees, who can gain experience with the Cisco gear without having to go through training or pore over a manual, he said.

The new software also provides an easy method for "cloning" one facility's network setup at another site. This is important at Watt because the company frequently opens up new remote offices, Campbell explained. Watt is also using the Catalyst 4503, currently for server connectivity. CNA doesn't yet support the Cisco Series 831 routers that Watt uses in many remote sites, but Cisco is working on adding that support, Campbell said.

The Catalyst 4503 is based on the existing 4500. Whereas existing 4500 switches have been designed to sit at the edge of a larger enterprise network, the 4503 is intended as the core of a smaller network. It is designed to support high-speed connectivity and includes user authentication and prioritisation for voice and video traffic. The rollout follows Cisco's introduction earlier this month of WAN routers with integrated IP telephony and security features for branch offices and small businesses.

The heart of the 4503 switch is the Supervisor II-Plus-TS, which provides the platform's 64Gbit/s of switching capacity as well as 12 integrated 10/100/1000M bps ports with PoE (power over Ethernet) capability, and eight integrated SFP interfaces that can accommodate Gigabit Ethernet fibre or copper ports. The Supervisor II-Plus-TS costs $5,995. Power over Ethernet can be used to power IP phones or wireless access points, removing the need to run a power cord to each of those devices.

Interface modules for the 4503 include a 24-port 10/100Mbit/s blade for $2,495, a 24-port 10/100Mbit/s blade with PoE for $3,495, a 24-port 10/100/1000Mbit/s blade with PoE for $4,495 and a 6-port 10/100/1000Mbit/s module that can support either PoE copper ports or fibre interfaces, priced at $3,495.

The Catalyst 4948 Series switch, also based on the 4500 architecture, is designed for server switching and server aggregation. It offers Layer 2/3/4 switching at full wire speed on 48 10/100/1000Mbit/s ports and also has 4 shared SFP interfaces. The 4948 also has dual hot-swappable power supplies. It is priced at $13,495.

The 4503 chassis costs $995, power supplies cost $995 each, McCool said. Cisco Network Assistant is provided at no additional cost. The switches can also be managed via the traditional CLI or CiscoWorks software. All the products are available now except for the Supervisor II-Plus-TS and the 6-port 10/100/1000M bps module, which will ship next month.