Competitors Beware: Cisco’s Dawn is Hot and Bright

Perhaps it’s just me, but it seems that it is in vogue to root against large and powerful companies like Cisco, Microsoft, Google, Oracle, and more.  Looking back through the years, I haven’t always been complimentary of these companies but I’ve tried to remain objective yet present my opinion on their visions, strategies, and execution.

With the release of John Chamber’s memo to Cisco’s employees, Cisco is clearly under the microscope.  People are actually calling Cisco “Too Big To Succeed” and pointing towards an impending investor upheaval.  Could you imagine these statements made toward GE, Boeing, IBM, Facebook, or Google?

As Jack Welch famously said, “Willingness to change is a strength, even it means plunging part of the company into total confusion for a while.”

Given that the entire world of IT is within a major inflection point, Chamber’s email must be seen as strength not weakness.  To respond to this rapid change, Cisco needed to reprioritize and refocus the company ala Google’s reorganization.  Furthermore, I’d like to see Chambers firmly take the reigns at Cisco to forcibly guide them through this next phase of technology.

Always remember that Cisco isn’t a “one-hit-wonder” as they have diversified products and services that address consumers, service providers, and enterprise customers.  The reality is Cisco plays a vital role within the IT industry and they are re-inventing the company to solve new and complex challenges manifested by this new IT inflection point.  Great ideas and execution are not limited to young companies and these companies have much to learn from Cisco.

Finally, rather than focus on Cisco’s reorganization and stagnant stock price, let’s look towards their new products within storage (MDS), switching (Nexus), compute (UCS), and datacenter fabric (FabricPath), as they are revolutionary, disruptive, and competitive.  My only suggestion to Cisco is that they need to fill additional product gaps (hardware/software/services) via strategic acquisitions of healthy, growing, and visionary companies.

Competitors beware, as the old proverb goes, “It’s always darkest before the dawn” and Cisco’s got a blazing hot and bright light.

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Can Cisco Eat their EMC and Have Their NetApp To?

With 2010 nearing a close, could Cisco be contemplating another major acquisition to complete their next generation datacenter portfolio?  The last glaring hole within Cisco’s portfolio is their reliance on outside vendors for storage solutions.

Over the past few months, Cisco has patiently watched as HP purchased 3Par, EMC purchased Isilon, and Dell is acquiring Compellent.  Meanwhile, EMC’s arch nemesis NetApp continues to grow and innovate in a tough economy.

Further complicating matters, is Cisco’s reliance on the VCE, a partnership between VMware, Cisco, EMC, and Intel.  It is no coincidence that the current Vblock VCE Reference Architectures specifies EMC storage offerings (CLARiiON, Symmetrix, and Celerra).

Not to be left out of the party, NetApp entered into  ‘collaboration’ with Cisco and VMware creating FlexPod that delivers ‘leading computing, networking, storage, and infrastructure software components’.  It seems that Cisco isn’t the only one hedging their bets as VMware exerts a rebellious streak against their parent (EMC).

Cisco’s future hinges around UCS being adopted as a true next generation computing platform without legacy baggage.  Cisco did not go to war with HP while potentially jeopardizing their relationship with IBM only to be saddled with the competing interests of three large companies.

In the past, I have speculated that Cisco should simply purchase EMC thereby owing a majority stake in VMware.  However is NetApp a better choice?  After all, does VMware need to maintain a ‘Microsoft’ level of independence from the server vendors?  Would HP, IBM, Dell, etc. be inclined to sell a product that lines the pocket of Cisco?

Only Chambers (ok perhaps Ellison as well) would be as bold to acquire an enemy of one of their strategic partners.  By acquiring NetApp, Cisco would be able to offer innovative solutions such as storage blades for UCS or even accelerate the adoption of FCoE.  Imagine a new Cisco Architecture with Cisco UCS, Cisco Nexus, Cisco MDS, Cisco FlexPod, and Cisco Management with the availability of VMware, Citrix, Red Hat, or Microsoft virtualization.

In the end, Cisco could offer a true end-to-end solution as they continue to lead within the edge and core routing markets with near dominance in the switching market.  Furthermore, Cisco would stand alone as the only integrated next generation data center provider that does not develop or sell enterprise class applications such as SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, etc.  In effect, they become the Switzerland of computing against their rivals.

The only question is how long will Cisco be able to ‘Eat their EMC and have their NetApp to’? Don’t look now, but perhaps Larry (Oracle) will crash this party and make the decision for then.

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