Tuesday, May 09, 2006

What Comes Around Goes Around

John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, stated in his keynote speech at Interop 2006 that that the network will become more intelligent to ease application development.  Simply stated, Cisco will build systems for carriers that contain more intelligence taking control from the network end-points.  This philosophy reminds me of the Bell System days where we built intelligent networks for dumb appliances to hang off the end.  It seems that we have gone a full circle back to the Bell System philosophy.  Everything old is new again.

Cisco was founded on empowering businesses with the ability to design their corporate networks to meet their own business needs.  Their philosophy was that the network was dumb and the end-points intelligent.  AT&T and its Baby Bells were professing the opposite that having intelligence in the network enabled more powerful services at less cost.  Cisco and other companies determined to create a new communications paradigm (you don’t hear that word much any more) based on their success at proving that the old Bell mentality was obsolete.

They were successful at unseating the Bells.  IP won out as the protocol of choice over a fairly transparent optical network.  TDM and ATM are giving way to Ethernet and IP/MPLS over DWDM.  Innovation is coming not from the big iron vendors, but from companies developing equipment and applications based on intelligent network end-points.  VoIP, Skype, BitTorrent, Wi-Fi, DVR, TiVo, camera phones, iPods and countless other devices are products of this pendulum swing.  This millennium we have seen an unprecedented period of innovation enabled by thousands of entrepreneurs that do not require billions of dollars to bring a new application or service to market.

The paradox of success is that the larger a company becomes the less they innovate and the slower they grow.  Cisco is experiencing this paradox.  They have grown to become the 800 pound gorilla.  To continue a reasonable growth trajectory, they have to come up with new communications paradigms that require carriers and enterprises to purchase new hardware, software, and services.  Without major shifts in philosophies, their growth will level out and possibly decrease.  It is a perfectly natural response, and you have to acknowledge Chambers’ drive at trying to appear as the great innovator.

Personally I do not believe that the industry is ready to shift innovation back to large corporate labs like Bell Labs, PARC, IBM, and RCA Labs, and control to their corporate sponsors.  Those companies are relegated to our technology history books. We will witness the same happen to Cisco Systems, Intel, and Microsoft over time.  These are all great companies, but they cycle of innovation will swallow them as well.  The Internet and intelligent network end-points has spawned the Cheap Revolution that empowers any smart individual or small group with entrepreneurial spirit the ability to be the next Skype.  

Tag: Cisco, Chambers, Interop