Demythologizing Cisco Part III: Cisco is the Only “Safe” Choice Redux

This is part 3 of series titled "Demythologizing Cisco"

I can’t remember the first time that I heard the term FUD, which stands for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt, but the strength of its impact has always struck me as remarkable!  If a vendor is able to get a customer or prospect to harbor fear, uncertainty, or doubt about a competitor, it dramatically strengthens that vendor’s position and likelihood of prevailing in a competitive contest.

Cisco sales representatives are masters at spreading FUD against Cisco’s competitors, a distinction formerly held by IBM reps, who were legendary at the practice back in ancient times when Bigblueous Mainframeous roamed the earth.  Any way to distract from evaluating the technology and the value of various alternatives, typically by securing the actual or de facto elimination of competitors before these comparisons can be made, greatly enhances Cisco’s likelihood of winning or keeping the business.  Astonishingly, even when a competitor’s products are shown to be technically equivalent and a much better price value, Cisco’s FUD often engenders a mystical hold over its targets.  FUD strikes at the very heart of a fundamental pillar of an IT infrastructure decision; namely, is it safe?

What Does Safety Mean?

The previous installment in this series entitled, “Cisco is the only ’Safe’ Choice” discussed that when it comes to networking infrastructure equipment and feeling ‘safe’ - it largely comes down to the expected viability of the manufacturer over the useful life of the products being considered, which is generally five or less years.  What is challenging about attempting to counter Cisco’s arguments about other vendors is that they are often ethereal.  These subtle planting of seeds often result in  the prospect  taking and running with them, sometimes inventing all sorts of notions about, the potential liability of going with anything other than Cisco.  And perhaps it’s not simply fear of what might happen by placing one’s trust in another vendor, but also a certain FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) by not going with Cisco.  Let’s face it, Cisco maintains an aura of invincibility, of mastery, of dominance, that is self-perpetuating and self-feeding.  The more it is believed by the IT community, the more the company’s products are selected without any genuine regard for alternatives, thus leading to continued dominance… and the cycle continues.  I remind the reader that the fundamental beef that I have with this veneration of Cisco does not have to do with whether Cisco is a great company with very good products.  I have conceded that as self-evident.  Where I differ with many in the IT community, and certainly with Cisco itself, has to do with the notion that there are not viable alternatives at a much better price than what Cisco offers, which will serve just as well to fulfill the client’s networking needs. 

You Must Get Past the Safety Question in Order to Really See What’s out There

The truly insidious thing about the pervasive genuflecting at Cisco’s altar is that so many are unaware of how much they are leaving on the table! The examples of vibrant, happy, successful, thriving companies using products from manufacturers other than Cisco should serve to put to rest any doubts about viability when one is considering their networking solutions.  In the case of Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (ALE), the company for which I work, examples such as Advocate Healthcare, the largest healthcare provider in the State of Illinois, should allay any concerns about ALE – they have built their entire data and voice infrastructure on Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise solutions.

Once the fundamental question of the safety of a vendor has been put to rest, then the detailed work of comparing technical functionality (preferably by actually testing products head to head), along with evaluating price and TCO calculations will yield a true picture of how Cisco and other vendors measure up.  Why am I confident that Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise solutions and perhaps others will fare well compared to Cisco if all of these steps are taken?  Because I have witnessed it time and again with my own eyes!  Because I have come to know the difference between projects in which a company essentially defaults to a Cisco selection (or simply flippantly goes through the motions) and ones in which they actually engage in a detailed evaluation, including in many cases a bake-off, of the various vendor offerings.  In the first instance, our company virtually never wins—Cisco is already the foreordained chosen one.  In the second, we very frequently win!

Why is Determining Safety on its Own Important?

There is good reason to determine whether or not a vendor is ‘safe’  - independent of other considerations, and at the beginning of the evaluation process.  If the question of safety has not been addressed and adequately answered up front, it can disproportionately dominate the rest of the evaluation and discussion to the point of overriding other points of consideration that should also carry substantial  weight.  As an example, we experienced a case in which a bid was issued and various vendors responded.  In this instance, Cisco’s offering was literally 500% the price of ALE’s offering (this is not a misprint—Cisco’s price was 5X ALE’s price—and it was considerably more expensive than every other vendor’s submission as well).  In spite of this result, there were people at the organization actually arguing that they needed to go with Cisco because they felt more comfortable with them.  In short, Cisco was safe in their minds and all the other vendors were not.  I know, I know, it sounds a bit crazy to me as well!

I continue to be astonished at the billions of dollars that are routinely left on the table as purchase orders are issued to Cisco for equipment and services when the purchaser could have secured a comparable and in some cases a superior solution at a much more attractive price point.  By our estimates, companies overspent by nearly $6B in 2015 buying Cisco switches when comparable Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise switches would have been a much better value for them. Generally, these money-squandering decisions can be traced back to a key person or persons in the decision tree believing, against sound evidence to the contrary, that Cisco was safe and the alternatives were not.  Is this how you want decision made about how funds  are spent in your company?

Yes, Cisco is Safe, but is NOT the Only Safe Choice

Options are great.  Contrary to what the religion of Cisco teaches, Cisco is not the only safe choice.  Thankfully, you are not faced with the dilemma of choosing between either safety or value.  You can have both.  That is, of course, if you don’t buy into the myth that Cisco is the only safe choice.

And if you are wondering what happened in the situation that I referenced above when some were arguing that they must have Cisco instead of ALE or anyone else even though Cisco cost five times as much; well, rational heads prevailed, and the customer is successfully implementing its ALE network and saving over $100 million in the process.

There is a saying, “Nobody ever got fired for buying Cisco.”  Is it true?  We examine this concept in our next installment in the Demythologizing Cisco series.

-------------

**You can read the full series here:

Cisco is the Only “Safe” Choice  

Demythologizing Cisco 

About the author