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Analysis: Cisco's WAN strategy is anyone's guess

Analysis: Cisco's WAN strategy is anyone's guess

Now that Cisco Systems has killed off its ATM switch for the core of enterprise and service provider WANs, the company's plans for this segment of the market are unclear.

Cisco is banking on increased sales of WAN switching gear to enterprises and service providers to drive the company's growth. But this week's news that Cisco discontinued development of its core WAN switch and delayed another enterprise switch for a year indicates that success for Cisco in this market may be more challenging than expected.

Analysts, competitors and other Cisco watchers say the company's long-term WAN switching strategy for enterprises and service providers is still unfocused three years after Cisco's $4 billion acquisition of StrataCom. They say Cisco has shipped only one new WAN switching platform since it acquired StrataCom -- the MGX 8850 IP/ATM edge switch, which is shipping in limited volume.

Other platforms are merely upgrades of existing StrataCom architectures. And Cisco has lost market share in frame relay WAN switching since acquiring StrataCom, according to Vertical Systems Group of Massachusetts.

"In frame switching they've decreased because [Ascend's Cascade switches] got developed and rolled out," says Rosemary Cochran, principal at Vertical Systems Group.

Cisco rebuffed repeated requests from Network World this week for interviews with company executives on the state of its WAN switching business. Cisco did, however, respond to queries from other publications regarding this topic as those publications contacted IDG for commentary.

Among the questions swirling around Cisco's WAN switching business are these:

What is Cisco's strategic core WAN switch?

Is Cisco truly "agnostic" when it comes to IP and ATM technologies for the WAN?

How has Cisco benefited from its StrataCom acquisition?

Does Cisco still have -- or has it ever had -- a strategy for WAN switching at the edge and core of enterprise and service provider networks?

The death of the 20Gbps TGX 8750 seems to leave Cisco without a core IP/ATM WAN switch to challenge offerings from Ascend, Newbridge and Nortel and with a gaping hole in its "end-to-end" voice/data system story. From a short-term revenue standpoint, that may not be disastrous because Cisco has said in the past that the revenue potential at the edge of the network is 15 times that of the core.

But longer term, a lack of presence in the core may mean a lack of customer lock-in and the additional hardware and software revenue that comes with it.


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