The networking market has changed over the last decade, with more viable players capable of competing with frontrunner Cisco Systems, according to an industry analyst, who notes that switching to a different vendor has its advantages.
In an interview with ZDNet Asia, Mark Fabbi, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, said the networking landscape has moved from a seller's market dominated by Cisco ten years ago, to a more competitive environment today populated with more players. Toronto-based Fabbi was speaking at a media briefing hosted by Hewlett-Packard last week.
"If you look back at the last decade, Cisco really set the terms and conditions of the market," the Gartner analyst noted. "It was the one providing the messages and directions in the market, as well as setting the price-points in the marketplace both for equipment and services."
The landscape, however, has changed in the last few years with "true viable competition" coming from vendors equipped with broad portfolios as well as good service and support, he said. Hewlett-Packard with its acquisition of 3Com and move into the enterprise sector, and efforts in ramping up its technology and capabilities, are among the challengers Cisco now faces, he added.
Instead of defaulting to Cisco, Fabbi said enterprises should shortlist products from other vendors as well build a better network and save money.
He pointed out that some IT organizations are unwilling to consider alternative vendors because they are comfortable with the current system or believe it is too difficult to switch partners. However, the latter is a perception rather than reality, the analyst noted.
Cisco, however, remained unfazed.
In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, a Cisco spokesperson said the company "has always enjoyed healthy competition in the networking market". This is no different now, she added.
"Customers have consistently spoken with their wallets," she said, pointing out that Cisco remains the vendor with the biggest market share globally for managed switching, enterprise routing and network security based on findings by Dell'Oro.
Benefits of different vendor
According to Fabbi, a benefit of procuring products from other vendors is that enterprises are able to build a better network--one built to fit the requirements of the company.
"No vendor, no matter who they are, is best at everything," he pointed out. "Enterprises have to start answering, 'Why am I buying this technology? What problems is it solving? Should I look at other vendors?"
Economic pressures have also led enterprises to shortlist alternative vendors, instead of just Cisco, for equipment refresh, he added. That said, enterprises should not use price as a determining factor for switching vendors, he added.
"Saving money is nice but [it should not be] not the primary reason for the enterprise to look around and compare vendors," cautioned Fabbi.
Instead, organizations have to make sure the network built is the right size for the company.
"In some cases, you may find you will spend more money in some places and less in others," he explained. "By doing an analysis, you can make the right choice."
Contrary to perceptions that customers are locked in by Cisco's proprietary technologies, Fabbi said the networking giant's lack of integration between its acquired products makes it is easier for competitors to "infiltrate and sell into parts of the Cisco infrastructure".
"Cisco grew by acquisition," he said. "Despite the fact that it sells a lot of things, operationally, [the products] all look and behave a little bit different." Citing Cisco's Catalyst and Nexus families of switchers as an example, Fabbi said: "A Cisco network is as multi-vendor as another network [built] with [products from] Juniper Networks, HP, F5 Networks or some other vendor."
He added that there are some elements in Cisco products, such as the Cisco Discovery Protocol (CDP), in which "it continues to try to maintain proprietary capabilities [even though there are industry] standards". Customers that want choice and openness may, as a result of this, turn to other vendors, he said.
Cisco: Innovation key ingredient
In response to this observation, the Cisco spokesperson said the company "has consistently pursued a standards-based approach to innovation"--whether it is products from the Cisco Catalyst or Nexus family line, or its architectural approach to "borderless networks and the unified fabric in the data center".
She added that Cisco addresses its competition by "leading with innovation". "Cisco is focused on innovation and on solving our customers' problems. We let our customers decide who is best for their business," she said.
To drive innovation in its product, the networking company spends over 10 percent of its revenues in research and development, she noted, adding that the company last year spent US$5.3 billion on product development.