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Vendor Profile: Cisco Redux

Even within a single technology, Cisco's architectural thrust means tighter integration of individual products--such as firewalls, VPNs and intrusion-prevention systems in security. Cisco's "self-defending network" strategy involves embedding more security capabilities into its core products, a key differentiator of the new line of integrated services routers Cisco introduced this month. Networks architected in this way not only will be more secure, Cisco reasons, they'll also be cheaper to manage because customers won't have to build and maintain elaborate overlays.

From CEO John Chambers on down, architecture is the rallying cry. Chambers talks about customers moving "from a box to a system to an architectural focus." Pierre-Paul Allard, VP of enterprise marketing, dropped the word architecture at least 50 times during a recent 60-minute interview. In an e-mail response to a question about Cisco's six "Advanced Technology" areas, a PR rep says: "We encourage you to think about these Advanced Technologies as an architectural network evolution, with each technology being linked to the others." OK, we get it now.

But much to Cisco's chagrin, not all customers do. Many still shop around for the least expensive products, or products with targeted feature sets, to solve the latest problem: unclog bottlenecks, lower communications costs, beef up storage, fend off attacks--fix a flawed architecture, in Cisco parlance.

Customers are better served, Cisco preaches, by focusing on total cost of ownership, not up-front pricing. Allard argues that only 20 percent of the average IT budget is spent on systems, with the rest going to facilities and operations. Companies can cut those costs by at least 25 percent, he argues, by standardizing on a primary vendor.

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