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Networking Buyers Put Reliability And Performance First

When evaluating which company to buy their networking equipment from, business IT buyers say their top priorities are product reliability and performance, ahead of acquisition or operating costs and well ahead of product innovation, according to a survey of IT professionals released this week.

Using a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 being least important and 5 most important), survey respondents were asked to indicate which of 10 purchase criteria mattered most to them. Product reliability earned an average rating of 4.7, the best of the group, followed by product performance at 4.5. Operating costs earned a 4.2 rating while acquisition costs, also known as capital expense, rated a 4.1. Product innovation earned only a 3.6 and breadth of product line was rated lowest of the group, at 3.4.

The survey, IT Pro Ranking: Data Center Networking, was conducted by InformationWeek and involved 510 IT professionals at companies of various sizes in different industries contacted in November 2011. In two previous reports on the survey, Network Computing looked at the competitive landscape in networking, with companies such as Dell, HP and others challenging market leader Cisco Systems, and how buyers prefer industry-standard equipment to new products that may be innovative but are proprietary.

When respondents were asked to rank networking vendors on how well they delivered on those criteria, the strength of Cisco became evident. Cisco earned a score of 77% approval, the highest of the group, followed closely by IBM at 76% and HP and Dell tied at 75%, followed by Juniper Networks (74%), Brocade (73%) and Avaya (70%).

By drilling further down into the specific criteria, differences among the vendors emerge. When asked to rank from 1 to 5 the importance of acquisition and operating costs as factors in a purchase, Dell ranked highest as being the most affordable and Cisco ranked lowest as being the most expensive. Cisco acknowledges its equipment is usually more expensive than that of others, but argues that it's a better value. In fact, Cisco earned the highest marks of the group on product reliability and performance with a 4.3 and 4.2 rating, respectively. Cisco also led the pack on breadth of product line, flexibility in meeting an organization's needs and product innovation.

While Cisco holds a strong position in the networking equipment market, the survey also reveals that competitors such as Dell and HP are putting considerable pressure on Cisco. One other interesting data point is that customers are more open to checking out other companies than their incumbent vendor, presumably Cisco, when contemplating new purchases.

"A pessimist would say there's nowhere to go but down" for Cisco, writes InformationWeek's Kurt Marko, who authored the report. "Our survey indicates the company faces headwinds in maintaining its lead."

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