Guest column: There's something about Cisco

State what you think is a simple truth about Cisco and readers respond by branding you a minion of Cisco. That is what happened in response to an off-handed remark I made some weeks back in a column. Ironically, when I explained my point to several readers, they wrote back concurring and providing further proof for my statement.

This is what I wrote: "Because Cisco has its own allure and is not governed by the rules that govern other vendors, I'll leave it out of the discussion."

I was roundly chastised for making an egregiously "pro-Cisco" comment and "elevating" Cisco to some higher plane of existence. I was just reporting what I thought everybody already knew -- when it comes to Cisco, normal rules need not apply.

What I mean is, Cisco's customers often let the company "get away" with things that other vendors would never be allowed to get away with. For example, if the Accelar did not perform at wire-speed at Layer 2 and 3, for all ports, with quality of service disabled or enabled -- Nortel Networks would have a tough time trying to sell it in the marketplace. Cisco's customers, however, don't seem to mind a bit that the Catalyst cannot perform anywhere near wire-speed.

That said, I've given up trying to apply logic to the Cisco customer "buy" -- hence my use of the term "allure." I try to deal with facts, and the fact is that customers and prospects treat Cisco differently than they treat its competitors. Right or wrong, that is what I observe.

I sent this explanation to two correspondents. This excerpt is from a major competitor:

" ... your point is right on. That is exactly what we experience in the marketplace. Cisco has done a masterful job of marketing themselves by telling customers, 'No one ever got fired for choosing Cisco.' Technically, Cisco doesn't stand up to a lot of other products in the marketplace. Unfortunately, this simply doesn't matter to a lot of customers."

This came from a systems integrator:

"I can actually relate very well to the Accelar/Catalyst example. Six months ago, I did a Bay/Nortel installation with Accelar boxes at the core, and when some equipment did not work as advertised, Nortel was raked across the coals. Just last week, I finished an all-Cisco installation where we had serious issues with trunking on 5500 and 6500 series switches and software problems on the 7200VXR routers. The customer didn't mind because they had Cisco. Microsoft has the same leash. Sad but true."

This is not to say that all Cisco customers are sheep-like. A major office retailer contacted us recently requesting additional information about a Nortel vs. Cisco router test (commissioned by Nortel) that we published a year ago.

The retailer declared itself a happy Cisco customer -- contemplating a major migration to Nortel. The reason? The Nortel gear was perfectly matched to its need, and with it, the company calculated WAN link savings over the Cisco products that was measured in millions of dollars annually.

Do you agree with me that "There's something about Cisco" that often defies logic? Let me know what you think.

Tolly is president of The Tolly Group, a strategic consulting and independent testing firm in Manasquan, New Jersey. He can be reached at or

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