The Art of IT: Three Wise Men of Networking

Cisco Systems' John Chambers. Juniper Networks' Scott Kriens. Extreme Networks' Gordon Stitt. If you had any illusions that these three view their business in even remotely the same terms, let

May 19, 2006

3 Min Read
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With Interop barely behind us, I want to share the upshot of some of the conversations I had at the show. Interop, while broader in reach than ever, still has deep networking roots. That means the elite of the networking biz show up in force and do the vision thing.

That, in turn, presents a great opportunity for me to meet with some of the top brass in networking to do the interview thing. This year, Cisco Systems' John Chambers, Juniper Networks' Scott Kriens and Extreme Networks' Gordon Stitt were on my list. If you had any illusions that these three view their business in even remotely the same terms, let me dispel them now.

Chambers' goals for Cisco are as big as the globe: He aims for his company to change the world. By bringing pervasive Internet access to Egypt, for example, Chambers believes that Cisco can play a major role in creating a middle class and driving real democratization there. Chambers feels his company and its products are a key to opening the world, and that openness will bring education to the masses. Naturally, Chambers' vision requires an end-to-end system--built on Cisco hardware.

When pressed for the unique value Cisco brings with its end-to-end solution, Chambers is more circumspect. He doesn't quite have an answer, for instance, to how Scientific Atlanta, with its set-top boxes, and Linksys home networking gear gain advantage as part of an all-Cisco system.

Not surprisingly, Scott Kriens sees the world differently. What needs to be open, says Kriens, is the network. That might seem like a throwback statement; after all, we have the Internet, right? What could be more open than that? But the statement is a swipe at Cisco, which continues to move ever closer to the end user--consumer and enterprise. Could it be that Cisco's successful IP phone business, along with Linksys and now a good first quarter for Scientific Atlanta, have led the company to consider a closed network model, a la the cell phone network, in which Verizon Wireless cell towers talk only to Verizon phones?Kriens seems to think so--he points out you can't always be sure the guy on the other end of the network uses the same gear you do.

While that's true for the Internet, Chambers seems to have other networks in mind. When we asked Chambers about Cisco rarely being mentioned as the vendor of choice for municipal Wi-Fi, he agreed and said maybe a partnership with the likes of Nokia or Siemens might be in order.

Gordon Stitt thinks openness is a good thing too, but for Extreme that means opening up the company's switching engine through its XOS operating system. Stitt says the company has built a powerful packet inspection engine and he wants to partner with software experts to take advantage of it. The first partner was Avaya, and this year Extreme added Internet Security Systems. The ISS-Extreme marriage has resulted in a switch with intrusion prevention capabilities on every port. Implementing IPS on every port in the network is an interesting idea, one that other networking companies are picking up--though not always through the same open relationships as Extreme.

There's a corollary between the success of a business and its executive vision: the more success achieved, the more the vision swells beyond the actual near-term execution of an organization. For years Microsoft spun lofty visions for each new version of Windows, only to pare back that vision with each delayed launch. Cisco seems to be heading down that road too. While Chambers' vision is wonderful, it remains to be seen whether any of us really want an end-to-end Cisco network. Kriens and Stitt remain pragmatic by offering effective alternatives to Cisco's wares but, in the end, this is Cisco's game to lose--and I don't envision that happening.

Art Wittmann is editor in chief of Network Computing. Write to him at [email protected].6044

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