Cisco On Networking: 'You Get What You Pay For'


Cisco on Wednesday took to the Web to defend against an increasingly prevalent criticism: that its end-to-end network architecture approach -- and the prices Cisco commands for ubiquitous networking products like switches -- is costing customers more than they need to be paying.

It's quite the opposite, argued Cisco: while commodity networking products might seem cheaper on an acquisition cost by acquisition cost basis, its single-vendor network vision is in fact what will preserve companies for the long haul by future-proofing their networks and offering better total cost of ownership (TCO).

In other words, infrastructure that's merely "good enough," Cisco says, won't be able to handle the demands of security, mobility, robustness, video and ROI placed on the networks of the future.

"There's a debate raging about whether the network really matters," said Rob Lloyd, Cisco's executive vice president, worldwide operations, during Cisco's Wednesday Webcast. "One one side, we have many new vendors to the networking industry who believe the value of the network should be determined by the cost of its components and that customers should focus on acquisition costs."

The Webcast -- served up in concert with a viral video and declarative white paper from Cisco -- is a thinly veiled counterattack by Cisco aimed at rival HP and other competitors looking to paint the networking titan as unnecessarily expensive and exclusive.

Criticism of Cisco's approach has also stepped up in the industry as it's experienced declines in its core networking technology businesses and taken lumps from a number of recent public relations headaches, from an ongoing executive exodus to its restructured consumer unit.

HP has emerged as Cisco's most frequent public haranguer. But Cisco's single-vendor networking approach has been challenged by researchers like Gartner, which took Cisco to task in a Nov. 2010 report that declared that multivendor networks are more cost-effective for businesses overall.

Opting for Cisco's architectural vision instead of "commodity competitors" was the key message from Lloyd to partners at this year's Cisco Partner Summit. In the Webcast, Lloyd and Cisco executives and partners sought to portray Cisco as the network innovator -- whose ideas are the building blocks for enabling next-generation technologies like cloud computing -- rather than something assembled with commodity sales.

"The real cost," Lloyd argued Wednesday, "is in project deployment and ongoing support," not equipment sales.

Multivendor networks are one way to do it, added Mike Rau, vice president and chief technology officer for Cisco Borderless Networks, but looking at network costs that way distracts from a broader view of total cost of ownership. He cited the "large amount of test and integration work we do" at Cisco to make various technologies, from switches to security, work seamlessly.

Another way to look at it, Cisco said, is whereas a "good enough network" might allow for things like single purpose networking, bolt-on security and basic quality of service, the ideas that those things are "enough" to future-proof businesses are myths. In contrast, executives argued, Cisco architecture provides innovations like integrated security, application intelligence with optimization, a unified computing platform, and better long-term ROI and investment protection because of those things.

Rau insisted that customers need mission-critical security and application support built into networking products instead of cumbersomely managed in a multi-vendor environment. He also railed against the idea that basic warranty is sufficient for network protection -- that's "one of the biggest myths out there," he said.

"You get what you pay for," argued Rau.

One place where the heated Cisco debate is playing out dramatically is in the channel, where partners are asked to build behind Cisco's end-to-end vision and convert their Cisco sales from technology-led to architecture-inspired.

Bob Cagnazzi, president and CEO of BlueWater Communications Group, a New York-based Cisco Gold partner, joined Lloyd and Rau during the Webcast and declared his support for Cisco's vision of networking sales.

"I think it's simple when you start to [see] all the elements that can impact the network," Cagnazzi said during the webcast. "It's more than just acquisition cost. You don't have to go out very far long-term to see the benefits."