Cisco's top 10 rivals

Cisco battling Juniper, IBM, HP and more across the enterprise network market

Competition is only getting tougher for Cisco as it continues to expand in 30 or so new markets while attempting to maintain growth in its core routing and switching businesses.

In FY 2010, Cisco's fourth quarter results were disappointing, as was the company's outlook for its current fiscal 2011 first quarter. At the same time, competition with major players in its core and adjacent markets is heating up.

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Which players? Below is our list of Cisco's 10 toughest rivals in a handful of its key markets, such as video, data center and collaboration.

Cisco vs. Juniper

Juniper took one-third of Cisco's share in core routing shortly after coming onto the scene in 1997. The company remains Cisco's one and only rival in core Internet routing with a 30% share of the $643 million market in the second quarter, according to Dell'Oro Group. And the two companies seek to one up each other with every announcement of a higher speed, higher density system. Current entries in this race are Cisco's recently-announced CRS-3 and Juniper's 250Gbps per slot ASICs for its T series systems.

Juniper is also Cisco's closest competitor in a number of security markets, including the $2 billion VPN hardware and software market, and in the $7 billion overall security market, which includes firewalls, VPNs, unified threat management and intrusion detection and prevention systems, according to IDC. Juniper gained a big presence in firewall/VPN systems with its 2004 acquisition of NetScreen.

Cisco vs. Alcatel-Lucent

Juniper is also an adversary in carrier edge routing but so too is Alcatel-Lucent. Alcatel-Lucent and Juniper take turns trading the No. 2 position in edge routing, where Ethernet service delivery is a key requirement for applications such as IPTV, Ethernet VPNs and mobile backhaul. Both companies are targeting Cisco's aged 7600 series and new ASR 9000 routers as their key competitive targets. Cisco's advantage is its vast installed base – 43% of the $1.34 billion market in the second quarter, according to Dell'Oro. Alcatel-Lucent's challenging that and looking to grow beyond its 19% share with terabit ASICs for its Service Router 7750 optimized for traffic management and processing of IPTV, WebTV, mobile backhaul and business VPN traffic; and 100Gbps Ethernet interfaces for the edge router.

Earlier this month, Alcatel-Lucent even made some noise in the enterprise switching market with a 5Tbps OmniSwitch with 10/40/100G Ethernet support that takes aim at the enterprise core – and Cisco. 

Cisco vs. HP

With a 72% share of the $16 billion market in 2009, Cisco is dominant in Ethernet switching. It would be hard to pinpoint a rival in a market where Cisco is essentially unrivaled. Yet HP is most active and vocal in taking on Cisco in enterprise switching. At 10% share, HP is the No. 2 vendor, thanks in large part to its $2.7 billion acquisition of 3Com earlier this year.

It verbally challenges Cisco every opportunity it gets at trade shows and conferences. Despite its dominant lead, Cisco is not standing pat. The company continues to unveil new platforms and enhance existing ones, all optimized for three key strategic markets: video, virtualization and collaboration.

Former partners HP and Cisco are also becoming bitter data center rivals. HP may have drawn first blood by pledging to revive its ProCurve networking division after Mark Hurd became CEO in 2007. Then Cisco invaded HP's, and IBM's, traditional turf by coming out with its own blade and rack mount data center servers. HP responded by acquiring 3Com to boost its switch market share and overall networking portfolio, and then bashing Cisco at every public opportunity. Finally, Cisco vanquished HP as a reseller; and HP banished Cisco from its data centers.

Cisco vs. Aruba

Similar to switching, Cisco has a close-to-dominant position in wireless LANs with a 58% share of the $1.6 billion market in 2009. Aruba's next with 9%. Though that gap is sizeable, Aruba gives Cisco all it can handle in North America sales, where it had a higher percentage penetration in the U.S. than Cisco had in the second quarter of this year. Aruba is especially strong in higher education, healthcare and other enterprise verticals, and is outpacing Cisco in 802.11n penetration, according to Dell'Oro Group. And over the last four quarters, Aruba's market share has grown from 8.7% to 11.9% while Cisco's has declined from 60.7% to 54.8%. Not that Aruba is the sole beneficiary of that decline but it undoubtedly played a leading role.

But Cisco recently came out with an "entry level" 802.11n access point that could help boost its share of that specific market. And it took pains to take the pain out of 11n deployments.

Meanwhile Aruba's been lining up top-shelf OEM partners, like Dell; and expanding into new markets through acquisition.

Cisco vs. Polycom

Cisco's keen on video, noting – by its own research -- that it will exceed 91% of global consumer IP traffic by 2014.This will drive sales of switches and routers on the back end of service provider networks to handle all that hefty traffic. On the front end? Cisco rolled out TelePresence virtual conferencing systems for the business and home, and acquired both Pure Digital, the maker of Flip pocket video cameras, and Polycom rival Tandberg to fill out the low-end and mid-range enterprise videoconferencing portfolio. Tandberg was the market leader on videoconeferencing, so now Cisco is with a roughly 40% share of a $2 billion market, according to Wainhouse Research.

Polycom isn't taking this lying down: it aligned itself with Cisco rivals IBM and Juniper to drive sales of its own videoconferencing systems along with IBM servers and storage systems, and Juniper routers.

Productwise, Cisco and Polycom match up fairly evenly, with conference room- and office-sized, and personal Telepresence and videoconferencing systems, and associated equipment and applications. Cisco recently debuted a home TelePresence system called Umi to work with consumer HDTVs but its price is being criticized. Can you see me now?

Cisco vs. Avaya

Unified communications and collaboration are hot target markets for Cisco, perhaps the most strategic after its core routing and switching businesses. But while Cisco plays in scores of markets with another 30 or so adjacent ones in its sights, Avaya's sole raison d’etre is UC and collaboration. Indeed, Avaya and Cisco are Nos. 1 and 2 in enterprise telephony, according to Dell'Oro Group, with 17% and 14.6% shares, respectively, of the $12 billion market in 2009. The companies were early entrants and decade-long competitors in IP PBXs and handsets.

The most recent battlefield for the two is tablet computers tailored specifically for enterprise collaboration and unified communications. Avaya introduced Flare last month, a mobile/dockable 11.6-inch touchscreen tablet that supports hi-def video, and Avaya's unified communications software for pulling together ad hoc meetings, including hi-def conferences. Cisco's Cius is a 7-inch dockable or mobile touchscreen that also supports Cisco's unified communications software and telepresence platforms. Both Cius and Flare run the Android operating system which enables both to support a wealth of existing or easily developed applications. Flare demonstrates that Avaya will not take kindly to any share gains in its one and only market from a determined and aggressive behemoth that plays in tens of others.

Cisco vs. Microsoft

Microsoft and Cisco are in that gray area referred to as "coopetition." They compete and collaborate on unified communications. After Microsoft entered into the Innovative Communications Alliance with Nortel in 2006, Microsoft and Cisco stated their intentions to continue working together as well as compete.

But after Nortel imploded and the ICA died, Microsoft took its UC partnership to Cisco's chief switching and data center rival HP. The companies pledged to fund the effort with $180 million and announced it to the world during an HP keynote at the Interop conference in the spring of 2009. As part of the partnership, the two will collaborate on product development around Microsoft's SharePoint, Exchange, OCS and HP's ProCurve networking hardware, as well as interoperability between OCS conferencing capabilities and HP's Halo Telepresence audio visual and conferencing technology.

Cisco vs. Check Point

Cisco is far and away the leading vendor in the $7 billion overall network security market – which includes firewall/VPN, unified threat management, intrusion detection and prevention, and standalone VPNs, according to IDC. The company leads in each market except for unified threat management. But in the largest sub-segment – the $2.6 billion firewall/VPN hardware and software market – CheckPoint is No.2.

CheckPoint is a pioneer in stateful inspection firewalls and, like Avaya and unified communications, is focused solely on the security business with products dedicated to firewalling, VPNs, unified threat management and intrusion prevention. Cisco also has standalone appliances dedicated for these tasks, but in addition integrates many of these capabilities into the operating system software of its routers and switches, which are ubiquitous through the Internet and enterprise networks.

Cisco vs. IBM

IBM has been getting tighter with Cisco rivals Juniper and Brocade ever since Cisco set its sights on data center servers and virtualization, an opportunity that Cisco says is $350 billion annually. IBM is OEMing switches and routers from both companies and, though much quieter than HP, distancing itself from Cisco at every opportunity.

IBM acquired blade switch specialist BLADE Network Technologies which competes with Cisco for data center switching mind- and market share; and next year will unveil the "Stratus" data center fabric architecture with Juniper to compete directly with Cisco's Unified Fabric for the data center.

Cisco rolled out the so-called Unified Computing System a year-and-a-half ago, which is intended to re-architect legacy data centers by consolidating servers, switching, virtualization and storage access. Cisco has sold UCS to 1,700 customers to date. Cisco also rolled out Ethernet switches dedicated to data center fabric switching two years ago with the Nexus line. Nexus is now on an annualized run rate of $2 billion. Over the past two years, Cisco has also enhanced existing Catalyst switches with 10G modules and virtualization support for data center applications, and has tightly aligned itself with storage titan EMC and virtualization software specialist VMware to accelerate the adoption of Cisco products into the data center.

Cisco vs. Brocade

Brocade and Cisco are 1 and 2, respectively, in Fibre Channel storage-area networks. Brocade has the lion's share of the Fibre Channel SAN market at 64% and Cisco's attempting to take the industry to Fibre Channel-over-Ethernet, a converged SAN/LAN switching fabric dependent on Ethernet switches – an area where Cisco is dominant.

Brocade's not totally resisting the move to Ethernet: the company acquired Cisco competitor Foundry Networks for Ethernet switching in an effort to integrate its own FCoE development and converged data center fabric. Brocade also recently proposed a unified data center fabric architecture, called Brocade One, as an alternative to those from Cisco and IBM/Juniper.

Even so, Brocade continues to invest in, develop and aggressively market its native Fibre Channel technology to its deep installed base and cash cow. Cisco entered the Fibre Channel SAN business in 2002 and, after initially taking half of the modular SAN switch market in 2007, has fallen to 36% share of the $843 million market in 2009, according to Dell'Oro. In that time, Brocade's share rose from 50% in 2007 to its current 64%, according to Dell'Oro.

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