December 13, 2000, 5:16 PM — Cisco Systems achieved another milestone recently: It became the most highly valued
publicly held company, elbowing out Microsoft. Of course this was a week or so ago;
given the roller-coaster volatility of the market these days, things may have changed
dramatically since then.
Still, known a decade ago only to us network technical geeks, the San Jose, Calif.,
company has truly made it to the top. Indeed, few of the enterprise networkers reading
this can honestly say that they don't have Cisco gear, probably worth at least six
figures, handling a sizable portion of their data backbone.
During the product testing and equipment selection that we at
href="http://www.mier.com">Mier Communications do for our clients, we are
increasingly hearing, "Cisco offers a product in that area, too, doesn't it? So
how does Cisco's system compare?"
It turns out that Cisco usually does offer a product for almost any backbone network
vacancy you're looking to fill. Besides its unquestioned dominance of the Layer 3
router market, it's also a majority owner of the Layer 2 switch sector. Cisco is out in
front of the explosive new voice-over-IP market, too. It offers fully functional ATM
switches, and it's beefing up its VPN portfolio. Cisco's even got a persuasive product
package to pitch for QoS. It offers special packaging for cable operators, and it also
sells DSL equipment.
And on it goes. Indeed, Cisco makes it to the short list of purchasers at least 90
percent of the time these days. And with erstwhile competitors like Cabletron, 3Com,
and Nortel Networks busily divesting, restructuring, or just plain rediscovering
themselves, the percent of wins that Cisco gets continues to grow, too.
The two questions that everyone's asking are
- What's the secret to Cisco's success? and
- How long can Cisco keep it up?
The secret to Cisco's success, in a nutshell, is equal parts good technology, good
marketing, focus, good sense, and luck.
Take good technology, for instance. In very few of the product sectors it targets,
even its cherished L3 routers, does Cisco offer unquestionably the best-performing
products. Backbone L3 switch-routers from at least two other vendors, Foundry Networks
and Extreme Networks, offer greater throughput and better price-performance for IP
routing. Cisco tends to outpace its competitors in software functionality; that is, its
operating software is richer in features. Now don't get me wrong: Cisco's stuff
performs well, too. But while Cisco typically offers broader functionality and
features, one or two competitors often outperform Cisco's top of the line.