Cisco hedges its networking edge

Can the No. 1 switching vendor win in 10 Gig by not playing?

Cisco’s engineers deserve a heap of credit for helping Senior Contributing Editors Brian Chee and Oliver Rist develop the test plan for this week’s 10-Gig switch-off. Eager to show what its big iron could do, the Cisco team improved the agenda with optional tests and an eye for detail.

So you can imagine our surprise when, days before its engineers and gear were due to arrive at the Hawaii test site, a company rep phoned to say they weren’t coming. Hem, haw, difficult to explain … but not coming. Thus our roundup of three became a duel between Extreme and HP, and Oliver Rist bought time for a sunburn.

The bigger surprise, frankly, was that Cisco agreed to participate in the first place. We’ve done three 10-Gig comparisons in the past, but each time Cisco has rebuffed our invitation to a shoot-out.

Is Cisco afraid of the competition? Chee thinks maybe yes. On paper, Chee sees Catalyst as a near match to HP ProCurve, giving HP a slight edge. But he agrees with Rist that Cisco has everything to lose by participating in competitive reviews.

“Nobody ever got fired for buying Cisco,” Chee surmises, with barely a hint of bitterness detectable on the phone. “But Cisco may have let itself fall a bit behind the curve. In 10 Gig, Extreme, Foundry, and Force10 run a step ahead, and 40 Gig is right around the corner.”

Senior Contributing Editor Paul Venezia has a different view, positing that Cisco’s IOS gives the company an advantage. “IOS makes easy things hard, and hard things possible,” Venezia says. “It’s the best thing out there, especially when you’re talking about deep switching and routing configs.”

Cisco didn’t become the No. 1 switching vendor without proving its worth to customers. But 10 Gig is a new game. We’ll continue sending our invitations, and hope that Cisco catches the plane next time.