Cisco's announcement of its high-speed router has prompted a networking vendor CAT fight. (That's a cabling joke). Competitor Juniper Networks has fired back, accusing Cisco's of "funny math" in its speed claims and basically saying "we were doing this first."
My take: the details at this snapshot in time -- remember, performance is a leapfrog game -- matter less than the fact that this indicates we're on the cusp of a big bandwidth capacity uptick, both in a macro sense and in terms of local 100Gb Ethernet upgrades. Perhaps more importantly, networking companies are attempting to cement their public personas. They want non-technical consumers to know who they are.
Here's my post from Tuesday: Cisco Boosts Bandwidth Play With CRS-3 Intro. It's off of the Webcast during which Cisco introduced the CRS-3, positioning it as the driver that's taking the Internet to the next level, because of its ability to handle 322 terabits/sec of traffic. (With that kind of capacity, you're talking video support, and cloud-hosted gaming, not Wikipedia views.)
During the Webcast, Cisco chairman John Chambers continually emphasized this "changing the nature of the Internet" meme. His money quote was: "Video is the killer app." (I wrote about Cisco's video thrust here.)
On the other side of the coin, you have folks who point out that all this chatter about video, and the market positioning about "we are the Internet," is great, but basically this is just a faster router, on the normal engineering continuum you get as you take product lines forward.
That, I think, is basically where Juniper is coming from in the e-mail they sent out to reporters Wednesday. Not that Cisco owes anyone any apologies for getting the maximum press mileage out of its announcement. That's what companies do.
Back in October, Juniper hosted an event at the New York Stock Exchange, to announce both their listing on the exchange and the launch of a bunch of Junos hardware, software, and partnering products and initiatives.
Juniper CEO Kevin Johnson took the stage and put up a PowerPoint deck showing the cover of Abbey Road. He said something to the effect that the announcements they were making were as revolutionary for networking as what The Beatles' final (recorded, not released) album was for music. Which was fine by me, because being a big Beatles fan, I'm always up for talking about the Fabs. It just didn't have much carry-forward as a networking-related marketing point.
I should preface the details of Juniper's e-mail, and also follow my previous observation, by pointing out that I have enormous respect for the technological prowess of both companies. I think what we're seeing lately on the marketing front has little to do with technology, but a lot to do with how a new category of vendor (i.e., networking companies) is groping toward the establishment of public, consumer personas and brands.
It's analogous to what Intel started doing in 1995, when Andy Grove and co. must've said to themselves: "Hey, what are we doing wasting all our time advertising to other engineers in trade magazines, when we could be on television, with a funky five-tone signature note, and an 'Intel Inside' branding campaign"?
Cisco is smartly proceeding down this same path with its Flip video ads, and the Ellen Page telepresence commercials. Interestingly, if you Google the history, Cisco's actually been doing TV branding campaigns for a decade now.
Since I have no recollection of prior stuff sticking, I submit that Cisco's household branding has really only just begun. The really interesting thing will be to see, once the Cisco name has been cemented in the public consciousness, what it is that people actually think they make. (Probably many folks think Intel makes computers, which they kinda do.)
Doubtless Cisco must've factored into its thinking the fact that explaining network switching to Ma and Pa Consumer is a non-starter, given that half of the technology press doesn't even understand what this stuff does, why it's needed, or how this stuff works. (Or what a packet is. But don't get me started.)
OK, I see I've digressed quite a bit here, mainly due to the fact that the marketing dynamics of the networking arena fascinates me. One final point, which could be a column in and of itself: Both Cisco and Juniper have been hammering lately on the point that they each make their own networking chips. During Tuesday's CRS-3 unveiling, Pankaj Patel, general manager of the Cisco's Service Provider Group, noted how important he felt it was that Cisco designed their own ASICs (semiconductors) for the switch.
I sense here a kind of internal frustration on the part of both companies that they don’t get any credit for the immense technical prowess required to design one's own silicon. So I completely understand why they're talking about this stuff, but I think few folks outside of processor mavens like myself understand the significance of this. (Hint: Intel does. See my interview with Intel CTO Justin Rattner.)
So at long last, here's Juniper's statement, attributed to Mike Marcellin, who's vice president of marketing of Juniper's Infrastructure Products Group and Junos Ready Software. (The "open" stuff he hammers on is meant to refer to Junos, which is the network operating system Juniper has opened up to developers.)
"In 2009, Juniper rolled out our vision for 'the New Network' along with truly revolutionary innovations in silicon, systems and software. We agree with Cisco that the Internet and networks themselves require fundamental change, but Juniper takes a different, open-standards approach that better benefits service provider economics and end user experiences. That’s why we’ve been delivering 100GB-capable systems since 2007.
The claim of 12 times the traffic capacity of the nearest competing system is based on a theoretical maximum of 72 interconnected CRS-3 chassis in order to achieve the 322Tbps total capacity – this will likely never be deployed in practice due to space, power, and manageability realities. With its new T-Series chipset announced in early February, Juniper will deliver a four Terabit system in a half rack configuration while the CRS-3 requires a full rack to deliver four Terabits.
In conclusion, I'm not here to parse the competing claims in a micro sense. I am here to say that both Cisco and Juniper are on the cusp of a very significant shift in how we all view networking vendors. They might've once been simply the Internet wiring guys. But as Cisco's Chambers put it Tuesday: "[We're] moving from being a plumber to how we deliver a whole new generation of business models."
(For a related take, see Bob Evans's Global CIO: Apple, IBM, & Oracle Get Turbocharged By Cisco.)
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Alex Wolfe is editor-in-chief of InformationWeek.com.