Cisco: the only safe choice?

Kevin Jennings
November 30, 2015

This is part 2 of a series titled "Demythologizing Cisco"

This is part 2 of a series titled "Demythologizing Cisco

Safety, it might be said, is in the eye of the beholder. A sense of safety is often based on objective, observable, scrutinize-able and falsifiable data points.  In many other instances, it is based more on subjective feeling or impression than on objective facts.  So, which is it when it comes to purchasing and deploying Cisco solutions versus the offerings of its competitors?  The answer is not completely cut and dry, and can be based on circumstances of a given situation.  My observations: That for every case in which the so called “safety” of buying Cisco constitutes the salient legitimate basis for its selection, there are a dozen or more cases where it does not. More accurately, where the relative comparative advantage of the safety offered by Cisco is far outweighed by other factors, such as comparative technology and overall value proposition (read: price for what one is getting), it’s not necessarily so.

To cut through to the paramount point -- when considering safety in choosing technology solutions, it boils down to issues of whether the manufacturer will be in business, will they be continuing to develop on the product, and will they be servicing the product for the term of its useful lifecycle in your network.  Network infrastructure products possess notoriously brief lifecycles, in part driven by the demands placed on them by mushrooming bandwidth and other communications requirements, and in part by the artificial promotion and adoption of the latest and greatest technology hype fostered by vendors and adopted by the business community alike.  Whatever your individual expectations are for the lifecycle of a given networking infrastructure deployment, the market seems to have voted for something along the lines of 3 to 5 years.  As such, when looking at networking equipment, one has to consider whether or not the vendors being considered will likely be viable for that period of time, and will likely be improving and servicing the equipment for that period of time.  I can’t tell you how many times I have encountered truly intelligent people opting to go with Cisco, and happily paying the Cisco tax as a result, with the justification that it is really the only safe choice for them.

Let me get this straight...  Does anyone really believe that HP is going to go out of business in the next five years?  Is Dell?  Is ALE (operating under the brand Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise), the company which I represent, going to go under in the next five years?  The answers are, no, no and no! Taking ALE as an example, I can tell you that the California State University system doesn’t believe that it will.  CSU is three years into rolling out an eight year technology infrastructure upgrade in which over 4,000 Cisco data switches are being replaced by Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise switches.  This would be the height of folly on the part of CSU if ALE were not perceived by them to be a safe choice.  They consider ALE a safe choice, and so should you.

In a very real sense, this question of safety is binary.  Either a vendor is safe or it is not.  Cisco is safe.  HP is safe.  Dell is safe.  ALE is safe.  A host of other vendors are safe.  Cisco is the only safe choice” is a mythdeftly and effectively promulgated by the mythmaker, Cisco itself.

Bandwagon Safety

If it is true that there is safety in numbers, then I guess Cisco does win on this count.  If one wants to be on the bandwagon and to blend into the crowd, buying Cisco puts a person right there.  It appears as a safe place to be.  But only if one completely ignores all other considerations.  Cisco charges an extraordinary premium for one to be a member of the club, and membership conveys little more than the emotional reinforcement that one is doing what most everyone else is doing, regardless of whether it makes overall economic stewardship sense to do so or not.

The Safety of Unaccountability

This one is closely related to concept behind the saying, “Nobody ever got fired for buying Cisco” (which merits its own treatment in the next installment in this series).  There is a sense of safety that comes with hiding under the umbrella of not being “blamable” for electing to go with a market share leader, especially one that has built such a mystique around itself as Cisco has.  I don’t have a silver bullet comeback for this one.  If one’s primary criterion for measuring whether to go with a solution is that “no matter how it turns out, I will be in the clear and can’t be truly held accountable for it,” Cisco might be the right choice.  Then again, many leaders shudder at the thought of making decisions on this basis, choosing instead to weigh all factors, including their responsibility to achieve not only excellence, but at the same time optimal value for their organization.  Many leaders want to be held accountable for mistakes because they see it as the necessary counterbalance to being rewarded for a job well done.  To them, hiding behind a vendor because that vendor will be given a pass simply based on its name is an unpalatable prospect that they eschew.

Value without Compromising on Safety

If Cisco is the only safe choice, any decision making process can be streamlined by eliminating all other considerations.  After all, it would be imprudent not to implement a safe choice.  If, as I have argued, Cisco is not the only safe choice, and there are instead many other safe options, including ALE, then other decision criteria such as technical merit, serviceability, price and TCO assume their rightful place in the process.  When they do, Cisco faces a host of challenges to stand up as the optimal solution.  That is why Cisco counts on its prospect eliminating all others vendors from any genuine consideration on the basis of perceived lack of safety before any real evaluation begins.

It has been said that, “Nobody ever got fired for buying Cisco.”  Is this really true?  We’ll take it up in the next installment in this series of Demythologizing Cisco.

Kevin Jennings

Kevin Jennings

Account Director, Enterprise Sales

Kevin is first and foremost, a business technology consultant. He is currently the Southwestern United States account director with ALE, bringing almost three decades of experience and successful results in business technology. Kevin is guided by a philosophy that “life is a journey of moment-by-moment growth or atrophy,” and his personal journey directive is a decisive choice for growth.

Every moment is an opportunity to make a difference and the difference that I am committed to making is a positive one of progress and fulfillment for everyone.

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