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IBM sells out

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I never thought I'd see the day when IBM's Networking Hardware Division (NHD) would push its customers into Cisco's arms.

The once-vaunted network technology group all but called it quits last week by selling its routing and switching technology to archrival Cisco. That gurgling sound you heard coming from Research Triangle Park was the sound of NHD drowning in its own hyperbole.

Having followed IBM for 11 years, I have to say this move was not unexpected but still hard to take. Nothing against Cisco mind you, it had the power and cash - the company paid about $600 million for the patents and technology - to get IBM out of the way. And IBM was indeed in the way of many large accounts Cisco coveted.

Users - many dyed-in-the-wool pure IBM customers (they are still out there) - tell me they are concerned about being abandoned by IBM and bemoan the ever-decreasing amount of competition in the network arena. To borrow from Bill Clinton: I feel your pain.

In my opinion, the industry has also lost some of its character with this announcement. I already miss the IBM executives who used to threaten to "kill" or "eat our own young" before they let Cisco in the door to any of their big accounts. I guess those executives ran out of things to munch on. There were also "ominous" threats over the years by IBM to sue Cisco over alleged patent infringements (nothing ever became of those warnings).

Cisco wasn't faultless. Company executives routinely accused IBM of doing nothing but "throwing up a smoke screen of confusion and fear." Sometimes screaming matches would break out between Cisco and IBM engineers at the SHARE user conference. It was fun to watch.

That said, NHD long ago relinquished control of its destiny when the group failed to comprehend IP and the router. Oh sure, IBM executives blustered and claimed the division had IP and switching technology that was every bit as good as anybody else's, but when it came time to walk the walk, IBM tripped.

In the end, NHD all but ends with a whimper. I somehow expected more than that.

What do you think? E-mail me with your thoughts.

- Michael Cooney

Associate news editor

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