"There'd be no client/server, Microsoft would have had its own protocol and Novell's IPX would still be around," Oltsik says.
"It would have slowed down the move to client/server in the 1990s," Mehra says. "Minicomputer and mid-range systems would have stayed a lot longer with us."
It may have also delayed the onset of 100Gbps speeds, Kerravala says. Token Ring increased in increments of 4x while Ethernet speeds increased 10x, though there were specifications being defined for 100Mbps and Gigabit Token Ring in the late 1990s.
Online TV may also have been slower to emerge, Kerravala says, with Token Ring in the LAN, FDDI in the metro and ATM in the WAN.
And IBM - not Cisco -- may have been the 800-pound gorilla in networking if Token Ring had won out in the LAN. IBM was long an advocate of Token Ring but that advocacy, and a huge chunk of IBM's networking business, succumbed to Ethernet and Cisco in 1999.
"IBM would have doubled in size because it would have controlled another standard," says ESG's Oltsik. "Cisco wouldn't have had the chance to ride the standards wave like it did. They and everyone else would have been in IBM's shadow."
And the spread of wireless LANs may have been hampered as well had Ethernet failed, says IDC's Mehra.
"Wi-Fi is an easier overlay over Ethernet than over disparate, incongruous networks," he says. "I don't think it would have been as pervasive" had Ethernet not become the networking standard.
What is likely, though, had Ethernet failed is the success of systems integrators and professional services organizations. They would be doing five to 10 times the business they do today tying together disparate technologies in the LAN, MAN and WAN, Mehra says.
"The complexity would be that much more," he says. "We'd have a mesh of different networks across geographies. We'd need an army of engineers and support people to run the network."
Amen to that, Kerravala says.
"It would have been a substantially more complicated world," he says.
Jim Duffy has been covering technology for over 25 years, 21 at Network World. He also writes The Cisco Connection blog and can be reached on Twitter @Jim_Duffy.
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