Cisco vs. Bay/3Com/Cabletron/Juniper

Only Juniper has given Cisco a real challenge in the end

Cisco blew through a slew of rivals in routing and switching during the 1990s and early 2000s, though Juniper is hanging tough

The subplot of the routing vs. switching debate was the fierce competition between Cisco and enterprise rivals Bay, 3Com and Cabletron. Over time, Cisco also deepened its focus on the service provider market, where start-up Juniper Networks, with the financial backing of several Cisco rivals in data and telecommunications, was becoming a formidable router alternative.

Perhaps only IBM faced a similar “gang up” mentality from other leading companies in its industry. But it was also a compliment, a show of respect and fear of Cisco’s potency and eventual dominance in the market through a combination of technology and marketing savvy, aggressive pricing and an ambitious acquisition strategy that enabled Cisco to burst its way into hot markets from storage to video.

Bay was formed out of necessity from the merger of two smaller Cisco rivals – SynOptics in enterprise hubs and switches, and Wellfleet in enterprise routers. But even the combination of two major players in their respective markets could not slow the Cisco juggernaut – Bay was eventually acquired by Nortel, which remains a distant No.  2 or No. 3 to Cisco in enterprise networking.

Before that, however, Bay combined with IBM – which had an ill fated LAN infrastructure operation called Networking Hardware Division (NHD) – and 3Com to form the Network Interoperability Alliance (NIA). The group claimed it had formed to enhance interoperability between ATM switches; but observers noted that the vendors really got together to gang up on Cisco and try to thwart the company’s increasing dominance in enterprise networking.

The toothless NIA folded with nary a whimper after three years, having made virtually no impact on the market or user buying decisions.

IBM, meanwhile, folded its NHD hand in 1999 by selling its routing and switching technology to Cisco.

Cabletron, meanwhile, committed a competitive faux pas by having its Cisco IOS router software license revoked after a trade show stunt. Cabletron resold a Cisco router blade in its hubs and switches. But after the company showed a marketing video at a trade show of the Cabletron Crusher beating the flabby Cisco Kid to a pulp, Cisco yanked the IOS license.

"We want healthy competition, but Cabletron has gone beyond that with the things they're doing," Alex Mendez, at the time Cisco's vice president of marketing for enterprise networking, said then.

Cabletron was gone a few years later, having split into four companies in 1999. What’s left of the company’s switching hardware operations – Enterasys – was eventually taken private by an equity investment after an accounting scandal toppled top management. It is also now a bit player in enterprise networking, ranking No. 7 in switched Ethernet revenue market share in 2006 with 1.5%, according to Dell’Oro Group.

Juniper is having better luck against Cisco in the service provider market than Cabletron, Bay, IBM and 3Com had in enterprise. The company stole one-third of Cisco’s overall service provider router market share and remains a viable competitor and alternative to Cisco in that market. Juniper is also looking to broaden this success into the enterprise market, where it acquired VPN and firewall leader NetScreen technologies. The company is also expected to enter the LAN switching arena soon.

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