The changing face of Cisco

In years past Cisco has used its annual December analyst conference to introduce new products and strategies for the enterprise.

In 2005, for example, the company rolled out its Service-Oriented Network Architecture (SONA) plan, which Cisco billed as a blueprint to help enterprises deploy service-oriented architectures. While it may have been interesting to enterprise IT managers, it was hardly something the average person on the street would care about.

At last month’s conference though, there was a decidedly different tone in Cisco’s message.

Sure, there were the usual sessions on data centre technology, the evolution of the carrier market, service integration in the enterprise and the next-generation branch office.

But there was also a lot of talk about YouTube, mobile video and Slingbox – all decidedly consumer technologies. The consumer references were no coincidence. The day before the conference began, Cisco introduced a new business group called Media Solutions, which will develop products for owners of digital media content.

So what’s the story? Is Cisco getting soft and selling out on its traditional enterprise customer base to make bigger bucks peddling products to the mass market?

Hardly. The enterprise is still Cisco’s bread and butter. While Cisco dominates the switching and routing markets, there’s still room for Cisco to improve its share of enterprise technologies such as voice, video and security.

But there are even bigger opportunities for Cisco to drive its technology and brand into the mass market. Its past acquisitions of Linksys, a company that made home and small office networking products, and Scientific Atlanta, a maker of cable set-top boxes, proved Cisco was branching out from its enterprise roots. The company’s message at the latest analyst conference only served to reinforce the point.

So while enterprise network managers needn’t worry about Cisco ignoring them, they should be concerned about looking like dinosaurs to a younger generation. IT staffers might picture Cisco as a serious, technically complex networking company, but their kids will probably associate the Cisco brand with cool, cutting-edge consumer products and services.

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