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Analyze that: Cisco Systems

As part of our "Analyze that" series, expert, author and president of Building Storage, Inc., Marc Farley dissects Cisco Systems. Marc shares insights on the company's strengths in storage, its potential weaknesses and its own worst enemy -- itself.

Also, be sure to join Marc at Storage Decisions 2003 in Chicago, September 10-12. At the conference you can participate in the "Rate the vendor" sessions and added presentations about how to create RFPs. This is a free conference if you qualify -- sign up here today.

Can you give a brief overview of Cisco's product line as it relates to storage?
Cisco makes storage network 'connecting' products such as switches, routers and interfaces to optical networks. They have a modular architecture that provides scalability from 16-port switches to 768-port directors. Modules can be 16 or 32 ports, 1 or 2Gb FC or 8-port IP routing modules. The company's VSAN architecture allows complete segregation of services and traffic, unlike zoning which has been a necessary band-aid. Their trunking technology is vastly superior to other switches/directors and should be understood for its value in large SANs with multiple switches and directors. SAN routers translate iSCSI to FC and are targeted at Windows and Linux environments to allow these PC systems to use low-cost iSCSI cards with centralized FC storage subsystems. Who or what do you see as Cisco's biggest threat?
Like many large technology companies, their worst enemy is internal conflict and confusion. Their size and market penetration makes them a potential partner and a potential competitor to everybody. Every other company needs to carefully understand their relationship to Cisco simply because of their size. In which direction is Cisco headed? Do you think it's the right roadmap for the company's future success?
It's not clear [in] what DIRECTION Cisco is headed. I believe they want to be the best "plumbing" provider in the SAN industry. Like Brocade, with Rhapsody, they have the ability to add applications to their switches/directors, but I do not think Cisco has a clear strategy yet for what those applications ought to be. Their current product has an API for others to use, which by itself is probably the best strategy -- let storage companies add value to the Cisco product, as opposed to sucking value away from industry partners. Storage has always been a bit retarded when it comes to partnering. It will be interesting to see if Cisco can change that. How should storage managers approach buying from Cisco? Are they offering deep discounts? Is now a good time to buy, etc.?
Cisco products are sold through Cisco storage partners. However, Cisco sales people should be involved if you think volume purchase agreements will apply as the sales rep may be able to facilitate special terms to their partners for volume opportunities. Which products should the company think about discontinuing?
Perhaps the connectivity card for ATM OC-3 networks. What has Cisco done this year to make itself a stronger company?
Their switch/director product line is very, very strong. Which of Cisco's storage products do you think will still be around in 3 years?
Their switch/director product line is a real winner. Other products that interface SANs to optical networks and TCP/IP networks will also be around.

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