The Single Silliest Statement I've Ever Seen from Cisco

A few weeks ago, NetworkWorld's Jim Duffy asked me to provide some comments on Cisco network management products. They were used as part of his expose on Cisco's network management challenges. In this article, in only the fourth paragraph, I read what has to be one of the silliest statements I've ever seen from Cisco:

"It's actually a good thing when network management is struggling, because it says that innovation is really happening at a fast rate," says Karen Sage, Cisco's director of product management for network management.

Huh? Care to restate that? Are you kidding? I think I've heard this before from people. It went something like, "I'm just so busy building networks, I don't have time for documentation". Or, how about, "Our network is too complex and innovative for standards and templates". Or, my favorite, "You don't need to test that new technology, just get it implemented". Yeah, all make me lose my lunch. Come on Karen! You can be honest with us and skip the political message; we're getting enough of those right now with this being an election year. The truth is network management is a competitive market with low barriers to entry (see, that MBA is already paying off). All you need is a problem, and idea on how to solve it, and some programmers. In this market, it's hard to grab 40% market share and demand 65% gross margins which Cisco enjoys with its hardware lines. Customers are also very demanding and require significant customization to fit their specific environment (thus, why open source is so popular). So, Cisco doesn't make a significant investment in network management. Instead, they provide substandard products that fill niche roles or help sell more hardware. People need a way to run 500 firewalls, so here's firewall management software. But the key is the software is there to promote greater hardware sales, not be a product unto itself. John Chambers touch on this during his CCIE NetVet luncheon at Networkers last June. Several engineers at the lunch asked him why Cisco's network management software was so poor. He agreed it was and had been for years. Then he said that he had made changes in the organization to make network management a success. Too bad comments like Karen's don't give me a warm fuzzy things have really changed. Now, Cisco is correct that they will never have a Cisco Mother-of-all-Products management software - one piece of monolithic software to run everything Cisco sells. There's just too much across too many products lines. Nonetheless, even point solutions need better design, functionality, customization, and integration with other tools. Cisco can be good at network management software, they just choose not to be. Selling routers and switches is more profitab....err...fun...I meant fun.

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