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Greg Ferro
Greg Ferro
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Cisco’s Spending Spree: An Analysis

This November Cisco bought three companies in the space of about 10 days. I’ll examine whether these purchases are part of a larger strategic move, or simply the result of internal competition among Cisco’s business units.

There is no coherent, companywide strategy in these acquisitions. Instead, we're seeing piecemeal deals struck by different business units as these units compete to grow within a shrinking and changing market. Cisco continues to look for more revenue and profits to keep its shareholders content, but when a company has more than 65% of network infrastructure marketplace, and gross margins of 65%, the only competition is really yourself. The fact is, Cisco is many fragmented businesses that compete with each other as much as external companies.

The Cariden acquisition shows that Cisco's Service Provider team understands the threat that software platforms pose to device sales. Having control of the incumbent software "controller" gives Cisco better control of the market.

Cloupia boosts the existing orchestration tools for Cisco's server and virtualization team by adding decent automation for non-Cisco products. This also positions Cisco better in the VBlock /Flexpod market for converged orchestration.

Finally, Meraki will be used in the Borderless Networks team to provide cloud-hosted management services for resellers to pass on at cost plus 10%, and further undermine the reseller revenue of professional services.

It's worth noting that none of these acquisitions is all that large by Cisco standards. Yes, Meraki was picked up at a premium for $1 billion, but mostly in shares rather than cash. Cariden was a $141 million deal and Cloupia went for $125 million.

Compare those sums to March 2012, when Cisco acquired NDS for $5 billion. NDS offers "video software and content security solutions that enable service providers and media companies to securely deliver and monetize new video experiences" (whatever that means). Clearly, John Chambers' apparent fascination with video remains insatiable.

If there is one overarching theme to these acquisitions, it's software. Cisco's various business units are buying the expertise they need to build software products. Cisco has repeatedly failed to deliver acceptable software in the past--products like CS-Mars, Access Control Server, Java clients and Cisco Works have highlighted the poor quality of Cisco executive leadership when it comes to software. We'll have to see if the injection of new software developer blood will have a positive effect.

Greg has nearly 30 years of experience as an IT infrastructure engineer and has been focused on data networking for about 20, including 12 years as Cisco CCIE. He has worked in Asia and Europe as a network engineer and architect for a wide range of large and small firms in ... View Full Bio
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