Can Cisco Be Cool Again?

Opinion: Cisco CEO John Chambers says "the excitement is back in networking" and the company can transcend into new markets. The giant may just get its mojo back.

NEW YORK—Cisco CEO John Chambers worked the crowd at the companys financial analyst meeting here, outlining a vision where the network—run by Cisco gear, of course—serves as a platform that follows you around as you flip between work and play. The convergence means "the excitement is back in networking," says Chambers.

For anyone following the networking sector—essentially a bunch of companies making commodity boxes and mergers of also-ran plodding giants such as Lucent and Alcatel—a little excitement would be welcome. The big question is whether Cisco can be cool again. Can Cisco, which for a fleeting moment during the dot-com boom was the most valuable company in the world, regain the mantle as a tech darling?

Indeed, Cisco is trying to thread the needle between being viewed as an innovator and a safe bet for customers. It also wants to be seen as more than a networking company. But if Ciscos vision is remotely right, the company could be on to something. Beyond headlines about new routers, marketing-speak and a new logo to be viewed as a consumer brand, and partnerships with the likes of SAP and Microsoft, Cisco is plotting the future.

"We have to have the ability to capture market transitions before they become obvious," says Chambers. "Once they are obvious, its too late."

Among the developments to ponder:

  • Video convergence. Ever wonder why the security guy in the lobby is watching video of different quality and with different applications than what youd find on cable or even on the Web? Cisco is wondering too. Its placing its bets on video converging across multiple devices.

Its biggest bet: Video will become important enough to enterprises that CIOs will invest heavily in networks to offer employees "tele-presence." According to Chambers, employees will be able to say, "Beam me up, Scotty, and put me in a video meeting in London and then Atlanta." Think YouTube for the enterprise.

  • The functions of routers and switches will merge into one piece of equipment. This convergence isnt that surprising, since Cisco is planning to create gear that can be installed with only a screwdriver.
  • The network will see Moores Law in full effect. In the data center this projection will mean that server functions will be moved onto the network, which will be able to operate faster. "The speed of the backplane network will be faster than the PC bus," said Charlie Giancarlo, chief development officer at Cisco. "Memory and storage will reside on the network."
  • Cisco will transcend networking and enter adjacent markets that appeal to all of its customers, from service providers to consumers to CIOs.

Of course, the subtext is clear here: Cisco will have to transcend networking if its going to continue to grow. Its clear Cisco wants to build the network thats going to follow you around no matter what you do or where you go. If it accomplishes that goal, it could regain the cool factor—or at least make a lot of money trying.


Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.