Solution providers sympathize with one of their peers who has filed a lawsuit against Cisco Systems, alleging several breaches of contract in relation to how an IP telephony customer account was eventually taken over by AT&T.
However, those solution providers also caution that the risks of taking such a case to court outweigh the potential benefits.
That peer, Infra-Comm, of San Juan Capistrano, Calif., is suing Cisco, of San Jose, Calif., regarding Cisco's handling of an Infra-Comm customer whose contract was allegedly passed to AT&T despite what Infra-Comm says was its long-term development of the opportunity and registering of the deal with Cisco, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed Jan. 18, 2007, in Superior Court of Calif., in Santa Ana, Orange County. It is scheduled to go to trial Sept. 22. Cisco has declined to respond to questions about its relationship with Infra-Comm.
One solution provider said he has seen instances in the business world of inappropriate back-channel communication of the type alleged in the lawsuit.
"You can't prove it, but you can see patterns," the solution provider said. "In this case, maybe the Cisco rep saw the business going one way or another, for whatever reason. Maybe he felt one solution provider was better than the other, or he had a buddy at AT&T, or he was compensated differently for working with AT&T. I can't imagine Cisco as a company would endorse this kind of behavior. But on the other hand, maybe things happen at the street level."
The solution provider said that a vendor should work with the partner that brought the deal, and should have checks and balances to ensure that corporate policy and what happens at the street level match.
The solution provider also said that Infra-Comm should move on and forget the past.
"It takes two to make a marriage, but only one to make a divorce," he said. "This is a divorce. Infra-Comm should approach Nortel or Avaya and say, revenge is a powerful force. And who wouldn't want to work with such a solution provider?"
With so many solution providers already working with Cisco, there is little reason to contract exclusively with the networking giant, said a second solution provider. For that reason, Infra-Comm should hook up with another vendor like Nortel, Avaya, or ShoreTel, the solution provider said.
"He could hook up with one of them, and then go around telling other partners, this is what happens when you work with Cisco," he said.
The one thing Infra-Comm should not do is fight Cisco in court, the solution provider said. "He shouldn't be spending his resources fighting this," he said. "It is Cisco. He could lose the rest of his business."
Luke Hosinski, president of Infra-Comm, said that there is no way he can just walk away from confronting Cisco as he is already at the point where there is nothing left to lose.
"We can't go back into our customer base and offer the switch du jour," Hosinski said. "It takes many years of training and recertification to change. And established customers are not going to take on new vendors lightly."
Hosinski said he doesn't mind going through the court process at this point. "I don't have the Cisco partnership anymore," he said. "I don't have my engineers, except for a couple who do ongoing service contracts."
Another solution provider said that a relationship is everything when working with vendor partners. "If you are a company trying to carry on such a relationship, and end up suing your partner, maybe you shouldn't have had the relationship in the first place," the solution provider said.
The third solution provider also said that Cisco doesn't really recognize the amount of investment a smaller company needs to make to get to the silver level of partnership, a level achieved by Infra-Comm just prior to being deauthorized as a partner by Cisco.
However, it is hard to believe that a company the size of Infra-Comm could even get to become a silver level partner, said the third solution provider, itself a silver partner of the vendor.
"I don't know how a 12-person company can add value with Cisco at the silver level," the solution provider said. "The math doesn't work on this. You need about eight engineers to reach the silver level. [Infra-Comm] was probably over their head. They really shouldn't be a Cisco silver partner with only 12 people."
In the end, the first solution provider wished Infra-Comm good luck in its trial with Cisco.
"I don't want to be callous," the solution provider said. "Where I live, there are many dangerous accidents, and traffic lights don't go up until after an accident. If this trial helps highlight the issue and changes the way companies do business, it's good for us all. And it would be nice to see the little guy win against the big guy."