Cisco's top 10 innovations over the years

A look back at Cisco's most innovative moves in its 30 years in the industry.

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30 years of Cisco

Cisco Systems turned 30 this month. Over the past 30 years, the company has been one of the most innovative companies not only in networking, but also the broader IT market. Cisco has leveraged its innovation as a way of moving into new markets and capitalizing on market transitions. Here are the top 10 Cisco innovations since its inception.

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AGS Multi-Protocol Router, 1986

Cisco’s first product was actually the “Massbus-Ethernet Interface Subsystem,” an interface card made for DEC computers. The AGS Multi-Protocol Router was launched in 1986 and was the first product that could bridge local area networks of different protocols together. Cisco has continually innovated the router, and its CRS-3 and Integrated Services Routers (ISR) are best-in-class products today.

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Interior Gateway Routing Protocol (IGRP), 1992

In 1992, Cisco earned its first patent, number 5,088,032, for Interior Gateway Routing Protocol (IGRP), a method for routing between computer networks. IGRP is a proprietary routing protocol developed by Cisco to overcome the limitations of the standards-based protocol, RIP. The 15-hop count limit of RIP was a significant limitation in large networks. IGRP uses a number of metrics, including bandwidth, delay, hop count, and reliability, to determine best route. IGRP evolved into EIGRP and was a significant upgrade for most organizations, performing significantly faster and scaling much better than RIP. IGRP was the first of many proprietary protocols that improved on the standard (EtherChannel, Skinny, etc.).

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Multiprotocol 7000 Router, 1993

The AGS router was Cisco’s first router, but the Cisco 7000 took routing to another level. The 7000 was the first true carrier-grade router with forwarding performance of 110,000 packets per second and many features that increased the reliability and availability of routers, including redundant power, hot swappable line cards, and flash-based memory for easier software upgrades. The "7K" was a true multi-protocol router with support for SNA, DECnet, IPX, AppleTalk and IP. MCI and PacBell were both early adopters of the 7000, and it became a core component of their Internet strategies.

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Cisco Certified Internetworking Engineer Certification, 1993

In the early 1990s, John Chambers, a VP at the time, was a strong advocate for Cisco to create the industry’s premier IT certification. In September of 1993, Cisco announced its “Cisco Top Gun” program. Cisco’s Stuart Biggs became the company’s first Top Gun and had this awesome leather jacket bestowed upon him. Cisco later changed the name to CCIE, and the rest is history. The CCIE is considered by most in the industry to be the pinnacle of an engineer’s career, and its success has long driven Cisco sales, building a huge army of Cisco-certified engineers around the globe today who are experts in deploying networks using Cisco gear.

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Catalyst Switch, 1994

In 1993, Cisco paid about $90 million for a small switching vendor called Crescendo Communications. The $90 million was considered by many to be a huge overpayment for a company that was doing about $5 million per year in revenue. Cisco took the Crescendo assets and launched the Catalyst 5000 switches. The Catalyst line is by far the best-selling network product of all time. In addition to the switches, many key individuals joined Cisco from Crescendo, including Jayshree Ullal, Randy Pond, Prem Jain Mario Mazzola, and Luca Cafiero.

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Cisco Powered Network Program, 1997

The vendor co-marketing program has been the most successful of its kind in the industry. Initially, CPN was focused on service providers that built specific services using Cisco infrastructure. For example, service providers earned the “Cisco Powered Network” branding if 75% of a service’s equipment was from Cisco. I’ve interviewed many service providers that carry the CPN logo and all of them raved about its effectiveness. The program initially launched with five service providers: Ameritech, BT, Digix, @Word, and Compuserve Network Services. An interesting, related fact is that Cisco’s first-ever national brand campaign was to launch the program. The program has since expanded and is no longer exclusive to network owners, but it still carries weight with customers.

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Voice over IP Innovation, 1999

Cisco wasn’t the first vendor to sell VoIP technology, but it did legitimize the market. In late 1998, Cisco acquired Selsius Systems for $145, million kicking off one of the most phenomenal runs that any business unit has ever had in the IT industry. For about a decade, Cisco dominated the VoIP market and left a bunch of legacy TDM companies, such as Nortel and Ericsson, dead in its wake.  

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TelePresence, 2006

Cisco’s TelePresence brought an entirely new experience to enterprise video. Prior to TelePresence, video was too complicated and generally offered a poor user experience. Although other solutions, such as HP’s HALO, available prior to TelePresence, Cisco brought a turnkey solution to market that was dead-simple to use and provided a user experience that was second to none. Since that launch, Cisco has dominated the immersive video market.

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Unified Computing System, 2009

When Cisco released its Unified Computing System (UCS), many industry experts thought Cisco would never succeed in the server market. The key to the company’s success with UCS is that Cisco wasn’t selling just a server. UCS was the first converged infrastructure solution in the industry and enables customers to automate many tasks to speed up the provisioning of data center infrastructure. While the hardware is the sexy stuff people love, UCS Manager and the service profiles made UCS a game-changing technology. UCS is also a core building block of Cisco’s VCE joint venture with VMware and EMC, which has proven the value of converged infrastructure as a core component of cloud computing.

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Application Centric Infrastructure, 2013

In 2013, Cisco unveiled its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) solution. ACI takes the concept of UCS and expands it past converged servers and networks. ACI enables the automation of management tasks across the entire IT stack – from applications through the network. Like UCS, the software management tools and application network profiles will be the elements of the ACI solution that eventually separates its from the many other converged infrastructure solutions that have emerged over the past year.

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