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Wishful Thinking: The Investment Protection Edition

April 24, 2009
at 12:00 pm PST

It seems that is it suddenly popular to attack Cisco on the topic on investment protection--that we are the “rip and replace guys”. It’s Friday--I am in a good mood, so I’ll offer up a piece of friendly advice to the product marketers out there: this is not such a great idea, since the assertion does not even stand up to passing scrutiny. The ironic thing is that these assertions often come from the most egregious practitioners of rip and replace.Let’s face it, the Catalyst 6500 is the poster child for investment protection. It has been shipping since 1999 and is still happily chugging along. In the time the Catalyst 6500 has been shipping, we have one competitor who released 17 different chassis in under 9 years to compete against the Catalyst. Their average product lifecycle is 17 months and according their own annual reports, they expect a product lifecycle of 18-25 month. At that rate, it seems like they might be the ones who want to bundle their switches with a forklift. We have another competitor who is doing a bit better with a chassis life of about 42 months, but, they are struggling with keeping their supervisors and line cards compatible and interoperable with each other. On the other hand, a you can upgrade a Catalyst 6500 you bought in 1999 to run the latest networking technologies today. Think about that--we shipped a chassis in 1999 that can be upgraded to run 10GbE today--a protocol that was not published until three years after the chassis shipped. Thomas Scheibe, our product marketing director for the Catalyst 6500 told me a customer paid him the ultimate compliment the other day during a briefing. He had presented the Catalyst 6500 product roadmap through 2012 and the customer was giving him some good natured grief about not sharing any plans beyond 2012. Think about the level of investment protection our customers expect from us for their 10 year old chassis--the three years between now and 2012 represents the a average product lifecycle for our switching competitors.And lest you think you might have easier pickings on the storage networking side, think again. A customer who bought an MDS director-class switch in 2002 can upgrade it to the latest protocols and features available today. The competition? Well, they kinda have an interesting story. In their attempts to keep up with Cisco’s growth in the storage networking space, they have end-of-lifed two of their own director-class switches. To maintain market share, they have also acquired a number of other companies and promptly end-of-lifed their switches too, forcing the acquired customers to upgrade--in fact, they have end-of-lifed seven different directors in the last five years. And to get their latest features? Yep, another chassis upgrade.A related assertion I see folks trying is that Cisco doesn’t innovate because their switches are X years old. I will tell you, that as a company, we are quite pleased to see a data center filled with dusty Cisco chassis. It means we have given our customers the ability to add capability and capacity based on their needs. It means we respect the investment customers have made with us and it means our engineers are smart enough to protect that investment. Every one of those Catalyst 6500s can be upgraded support 10Gb, every one of those MDS directors can upgraded to support 8Gb FC, but on the customer’s timeline. The Nexus 7000 draws on the same heritage--it would have been easy to say the net-gen platform is here, we are EOL-ing the other one, but we did not do that--we maintain and invest in both platforms and help customers figure out when it makes sense to move. And, like its predecessors, it is designed to support protocols that will not be finalized for another couple of years yet. Even with broader solutions like unified fabric, you will see, our approach is explicitly designed to protect the existing customer investment--its simply what we do.

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5 Comments.


  1. Thanks for the post. This is a great differentiator that I was not aware of. All the trash talk and propaganda thats been flying around lately has left me confused and misinformed. The response to UCS coming from the likes of HP and others leads me to one conclusion….they are very worried right now.

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  2. Wondering … In the old days, I used to calculate the its per buck per year”" of many devices. These days, I might calculate “”bucks per bits per year”". I’ll confess that I’ve still got some 5500s in service — I’m sure that even figuring the TCO of this beastie would be a Yale-worthy doctoral thesis.I’ll confess that the older devices were CGS and AGS+ devices and T1s vs. T3s. But for something like a 6500 that has gone through a number of life-cycle upgrades, how would *you* calculate the TCO on a per-port-bit basis? Ok, given that, how would *I* calculate the “”cost per port per bit per year”"? In an age where Dell, HP, Juniper, and every Joe-Bob who slaps some software around a chipset is selling “”cost per port”" to the bean-counters, how do we figure “”cost per port per year”"?. And if you _really_ think about it – given the 6500 has gone from “”GigE is new”" to “”TenGigE is new”" and will probably push “”40GigE is new”" — normalizing the price across that spread is a daunting task.”

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  3. Mark Weiner

    Actually, investment protection has been a Cisco mantra for many years. This certainly is case across data center (and branch) platforms.Example: WAAS was released almost 3 years ago, and original platforms support nearly all major capabilities introduced as the software has evolved — video delivery, application-specific acceleration, disk encryption, and more.Example 2: Cisco ISR routers have added a whole new set of functionality — local hosting applications and IT services via the AXP module, as well as integrated WAN optimization via a WAAS module. Neither service existed in 2004/5 as the ISR was rolled out, yet both major new services are fully supported across the ISR 2800/3800 families.In short, it’s about corporate philosophy and design culture, versus market conditions and near-term business goals.

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  4. Lessons learned in DC infrastructure – don’t tie layer one cabling (a layer that can last 10 to 20 years) to a layer that changes every two to three years. It is the principal of investment protection for layer one infrastructure. TOR zealots are quick to grab at any bit of apparent cost justification so tossing this bit of long standing best practice into the waste bin seems like a small price to pay to help justify stranded ports on a 5000 chassis. When you look at investment protection through the Unified”" lense you can see an issue with latency suddenly changing the dynamics for distributed switching. If TOR was such a fantastic idea why aren’t we all there already? When 2012 rolls around with imbedded 10GbaseT LOM hopefully you will already be committed to a proprietary stream – now that’s an investment in someone’s future. Question is who’s future?”

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  5. Omar Sultan

    PeteW:Thanks for the feedback–yeah, there is a lot of stuff”" flying around there, so part of the goal with the blog is to give readers some straightforward info. These are definitely some interesting times to be in the data center. :)Have a great weekend,Omar”

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