24 May 2009

Companies That Can't Innovate Replicate...Or Just Whine

A funny thing happened while Aruba was on the way to market with its innovative Virtual Branch Network (VBN) solution and "network rightsizing" initiative - Cisco got hot and bothered.

Just after the VBN solution received the 2009 Best of Interop Las Vegas Award in the Wireless & Mobility category (http://bit.ly/aUocV), Joel Conover, senior manager, network systems at Cisco called the new 600 Series Branch Office Controller "a travesty" (http://bit.ly/KOmNv). He then claimed that Cisco offered the same capabilities with a new product...but only when used behind an expensive Cisco 800 Series ISR Router. Why does Cisco need an expensive WAN router when Aruba VBN does not, even for the entry level $99 list RAP-2?

Aruba's rightsizing initiative promotes the use of Wi-Fi everywhere it can be used, wired networks only where they must be used. Rightsizing is a three step process whereby users assess current wired LAN utilization using a tool like StatSeeker (on average 30-40% of wired ports aren't used at all), consolidate switches and scale service plans/cooling/power consumption to match, and then invest the savings in upgrading the Wi-Fi network to 802.11n. Simple and logical, right? If you can save money you should. If your network is already rightsizied then the most you've invested is some time verifying that's the case.

Customer reaction to rightsizing has been nothing short of amazing. The California State University System identified $30M of savings by shifting from wired networks to Wi-Fi (http://bit.ly/uvjbu).

Cisco, however, had a different reaction.When John Cox published an article in Network World titled "Is it time to cut the Ethernet access cable?" (http://bit.ly/3cG4t) in which he noted that pervasive WLANs leave costly wired ports idle, Cisco flipped. Chris Kozup, ironically titled senior manager for mobility solutions at Cisco, maintained that an Ethernet cable is exactly what everyone needs. Aruba's right-sizing is a "shortsighted message from a wireless-only provider. It's penny-wise and pound-foolish." Using Wi-Fi as the primary form of network access is inflexible and the benefits exaggerated, he said.

And yet....Cisco itself released a report stating that its own employees average 90 minutes per day of additional productive time using Wi-Fi (http://bit.ly/UNHQd). So why is Cisco so aggressively pushing wired LANs on customers?

The answer to both questions can be found in Cisco's business model, which depends on profits generated from selling overpriced wired routers and wired ports. The big R&D bucks go to the wired side of the house, which is perhaps one reason why Cisco's lackluster wireless LANs are missing innovative features like application awareness and adaptive response to changes in local RF conditions.

Cisco's focus on wired LANs and lack of wireless innovation has resulted in two consistent forms of behavior: attempts to replicate features found in Aruba's innovative products (Cisco's new band steering feature and the changes in their newest network management console appear to be almost exact replicas of Aruba features); and whining, as exemplified in the articles above.

If you want real innovation, look to companies that identify problems and deliver creative solutions. Replicators and whiners need not apply.