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Waiting For The Enterprise

The home and small-business networking markets are certainly robust. But you could add up every dollar that those segments produce and you still can't touch the levels of business that a peak enterprise market can hit. That explains why Cisco Systems--fresh off a few quarters of performance that have outpaced Wall Street expectations--thinks things can still get a lot better in the networking arena.

Although Cisco CEO John Chambers has been waxing optimistic in recent public statements, he still acknowledges that enterprise buyers are only slowly coming back into heavier buying after "three years of false starts" triggered by the IT economic downturn.

Chambers would certainly like to see corporate buying restrictions lift: Cisco's quarterlies of late are being helped by gains in IP telephony, home networking, optical products, security, storage, and wireless. What's more, the company is continuing to emphasize its services line and aiming more at smaller business. But getting core enterprise-based products such as switches and routers moving would mean real growth.

If and when the enterprise sector returns to steady growth, however, Cisco can't assume it will own it outright. In particular, Juniper Networks' recent $4 billion acquisition of security firm NetScreen Technologies indicates a willingness to go head-to-head with Cisco. NetScreen totaled only $81 million in revenue in its last quarter from virtual private networking (VPN) and firewall hardware products. But Juniper clearly feels that extending its existing enterprise-based products will make its overall line more competitive in wider markets.

And Juniper is hardly the only networking company looking to extend its reach: Alcatel and Nortel Networks are among Cisco competitors in various net business lines. They are cutting deals that give them more end-to-end capabilities, thus decreasing their need to rely on alliances with Cisco to fill in the gaps. Having partners turn into competitors will make the chase for the returning enterprise dollar an interesting one.

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