10 competitors Cisco just can't kill off

With such a broad array of products and backed by vast financial resources, Cisco faces challenges on all fronts, making it possible for other behemoths and even some small competitors to persist

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10 competitors Cisco just can't kill off

Creating a short list of key Cisco competitors is no easy task as the company now competes in multiple markets.  In this case we tried to pick companies that have been around awhile or firms that have developed key technologies that directly impacted the networking giant. Cisco is now pushing heavily into software and security, a move that will open it up to myriad new competitors as well. Take a look.

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Since it was founded in 2004 by Andy Bechtolsheim, David Cheriton and Kenneth Duda, Arista has been a thorn in Cisco’s side.  Now run by former Cisco data-center and switching executive Jayshree Ullal, the company had revenues of over $1.6 billion in 2017.  Its strategy of offering its EOS routing and switching system software on white boxes has proved popular, especially with big cloud companies. Many believe that strategy pushed Cisco to move its IOS XE and XR software the same direction – a notion most said was unthinkable just a couple years ago. Cisco and Arista are still banging on each other in court over a patent infringement lawsuit brought by Cisco in 2014.

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Juniper Networks

Juniper, like Arista, has embraced the disaggregation battle cry and has made successful inroads in selling to large cloud providers.  While the company competes successfully there, it has been knocked around by Cisco, particularly in the security market where Cisco has been growing significantly over the past three years.  Cisco and Juniper continue to do battle in the service/telco world where the two companies have gone head-to-head for years.

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Huawei is a 31-year old company that has been competing very successfully against Cisco – especially outside the U.S. – in telecommunications and enterprise networking. In fact, by some analysts’ accounts Cisco and Huawei are the two companies battling it out over the Ethernet-switching world these days. IDC says Cisco’s Ethernet switching share rose about 7 percent and market share went to 57 percent, in the third quarter of 2017. Huawei, on the other hand did well, too, seeing its Ethernet switch revenue grow 14 percent year-over-year in the third quarter of 2017 for a market share of about 8 percent, up from 7 percent in 3Q16.

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Microsoft has for the past few years given Cisco more than a run for its money in unified-communications software. A March 2018 report from Synergy Research notes: “Cisco’s worldwide market share was relatively stable over the four quarters of 2017, while Microsoft share nudged up as the year progressed. Cisco market share topped Microsoft’s by a percentage point or more over the first three quarters but narrowed to substantially less than a percentage point in Q4.” Synergy says Cisco owes its leadership to dominating premises-based UC and cutting into hosted/cloud providers. Microsoft leads in hosted/cloud collaboration, but that market is more fragmented, with no competitor grabbing double digit share.

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Cisco and VMware have successfully worked together over the years. (Remember the Virtual Computing Environment where Cisco and EMC/VMware partnered to develop virtual cloud computing packages?) And Cisco last fall extended its Application Centric Infrastructure to offer a “tight integration between ACI-ready physical infrastructure and VMware virtual elements.” However, also last year, VMware said it would no longer support third-party virtual switch programs and that customers should just work with VMware’s vSphere products. The move was a strategic decision for VMware but strained the relationship between Cisco and others with ties into virtual switching like HPE and IBM.

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Extreme Networks

In the cutthroat world of enterprise switching and routing it’s quite a statement for Extreme to have survived since its founding 1996. Certainly it hasn’t been an easy road for the company but in the past year it has made itself down-right formidable by buying Avaya’s and Brocade’s networking businesses. The company says it now expects annual revenues in the $1 billion neighborhood and has publically said it expects to take marketshare from Cisco.

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F5 Networks

F5 Networks, too, is an old-timer in networking, having introduced its BIG-IP load balancer in 1997. Probably its chief ding at Cisco came in 2012 when Cisco pulled out of the Layer 4-7 load-balancer market. At the time Network World wrote: “[Cisco] was getting pummeled by F5 and Citrix; and Cisco is increasingly virtualizing those and other ancillary capabilities to its core routing and switching products through software.”  

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In head-to-head battles for customers Cisco and HPE probably don’t cross paths that often, yet HPE remains a key player in data centers. A report from Synergy Research Group last year stated: “Cisco continues to control a third of the enterprise-infrastructure market and remains in a league of its own despite a variety of challenges. HPE is the only broad-based competitor to challenge Cisco’s dominance though it does not compete in all of the major segments.” Synergy said HPE has a clear lead in cloud servers and is a challenger in storage, while Cisco dominates networking and also has a growing line of server products.

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Check Point Software

Gartner forecasts worldwide enterprise security spending to total $96.3 billion in 2018, an increase of 8 percent from 2017 with companies “spending more on security as a result of regulations, shifting buyer mindset, awareness of emerging threats and the evolution to a digital business strategy.” It is a market Cisco expects to dominate. Tons of vendors might think otherwise –long-time competitor Check Point being one of the oldest. Since 1993 the company has been a firewall and VPN leader and it continues to have a healthy bottom line, analysts say. It has about 4,300 employees as well.

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Cumulus Networks

While it’s still young and privately held, Cumulus stepped into the enterprise, data-center and cloud-computing world in 2010 and made an impact touting an open-source operating system that customers could run on any hardware. Since then the company says it has more than 1,000 customers running Cumulus Linux, and Forrester says of the company: “Enterprises that heavily base their data-center and operations on Linux should put Cumulus Networks on their shortlists to harness efficiencies with a consistent development approach.” Cumulus Networks debuted in the Visionaries quadrant of the 2017 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Data Center Networking.

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