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The Art of IT: Three Wise Men of Networking

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?

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