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Cisco CEO Chambers: 'I did not want to compete against IBM and HP'

Cisco chief explains evolving and complex enterprise IT market competition: 'We didn't burn bridges.'

By John Gallant, Scot Finnie and Eric Knorr, Network World
March 12, 2010 09:02 AM ET

Network World - In this installment of IDG Enterprise's "CEO Interview Series," Cisco CEO John Chambers talks with IDGE Chief Content Officer John Gallant, Computerworld Editor-in-Chief Scot Finnie and InfoWorld.com Editor-in-Chief Eric Knorr about Cisco's changing relationship with IBM, HP and others as it forges ahead into new enterprise IT markets.

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Your goal of being the No.1 IT company puts Cisco into a different market. People know you as the network company because you are selling against, say, Juniper on point products. But now you'll be selling a vision of IT against the HPs and IBMs of the world. That's a very different thing, no?

[We're] one of the top architectural players, as well as the top communications company, which you could argue we're in pretty good shape on. We'll play architecturally on both technology and on business.

We've had a track record in whatever markets we've entered, becoming the No.1 player. Even our toughest critics would probably give us credit for that. The first generation of competitors we took on were very good companies: SynOptics, Wellfleet, 3Com, Cabletron. Only none of those now exist. And, the same thing could happen to Cisco if we don't get market transitions right. 

Secondly, we have a healthy paranoia. We know we could be left behind too. Make no mistake about it. While we have no fear, we have a lot of healthy paranoia about what can go wrong.

Third; when we started in the service provider market, people said we didn't understand service providers. It's a different set of competitors, Nortel, Lucent, Alcatel, Siemens, Ericsson. To think you could even play here is probably a stretch. To think you can become the No.1 player, forget it. And yet, we did. Those were tough competitors. But we got our market transition right. We moved in a way they did not. We did it on architecture.

If you were at the Mobile World Congress, you ask any service provider who is your most likely business partner? And who's your most likely technology architecture partner? We'll get the answer the majority of the time. Now, that was something you would have said five or six years ago was not possible.

In the data center, I did not want to compete against IBM and HP. I tried to partner with both of them. I would have preferred that. But we knew going in - and the decision was made five years ago - once we started down the path with virtualization, that if they would partner we'd prefer to do that, and would have actually given them a large part of our technology. But if not, it was too important strategically to us, because it wasn't a question about moving into new markets. I'm not after servers. I'm after virtualization, where you don't know where your processors are, your information's stored, the application resides. You don't care. If done another way, the network becomes dumb pipes, commodity like. So we had to move into this in terms of where the market was going. We focused on market transition, not competitors. And I think you'd have to argue, we're off to a good start, both in mind share and vision and strategy. But it comes down to how well we do on our first pilots.

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