I think it’s fair to say the majority of people working in networking have had some experience with Cisco, after all, Cisco is still the industry leader in a $50B dollar market. When I first switched to networking, I knew nothing…The vendors, hardware, protocols, tools, were all completely new to me. I was lucky to receive an opportunity to join an awesome team of networking professionals at an Edu in Brisbane Australia.

My job was to assist with the deployment of 100s of Cisco 2950 switches, upgrading a 10Mbps network to 100Mbps to the desktop. All buildings in the campus were to be re-cabled with Cat5e structured cabling. At cutover we would remove all old equipment and implement the new super fast Cisco kit.

At that point in my career it wasn’t my job to question why we were deploying Cisco. Someone else, probably my boss or even his, had made that call. I got on with mine, working with the senior members of the team to build configs and deploy the equipment. The project was a great success, we upgraded building after building with no issues. The Cisco equipment just worked. I was sold! Cisco was awesome. We deployed 100s of switches with almost no failure.

When it came to basic switching and routing at the Edu it was 100% Cisco. I completely understood the logic. Cisco was solid, we had knowledge of the product and being an Edu we received a kick arse discount so the price didn’t even resemble list. Why wouldn’t you keep installing the number one enterprise networking vendor under those circumstances! It wasn’t until I left the Edu and started working at a VAR that I realised there are other vendors.

My role at the VAR was designing and building networks to support Mitel Voice Systems. My job was to integrate the voice solution with the customers existing network, this meant dealing with a range of vendors including HP, Extreme, Netgear and D-Link. All of these vendors did the job for their customers, voice was clear and my company got paid. If we were required to supply both the network and voice solution we never recommended Cisco. For a small VAR there was no way we could buy and on sell at a competitive price, not to mention maintain the certification level required to be a fully fledged Cisco partner. We found value in other vendor products.

In my current role I’m responsible for recommending products and it’s up to me to ensure the product works both technically and from a value perspective. Alternative vendors have great solutions and it’s about finding what works for your use case. In recent times I’ve recommended moving away from pure Cisco switching and routing solutions to competitors such as Arista and Brocade.

I recently upgraded two data centre networks where after evaluation it was determined that the alternatives best met our challenges. Months later the kit is up and running, frames are being forwarded and packets are being routed. For this use case the competing Cisco solutions would also have done the job, but it was deemed the extra functionality, complexity and cost was not necessary to solve the core problem.

As we move into 2015 I think more focus will be placed on building use case driven, best of breed solutions in networking. Cisco will no doubt continue to exist, but from speaking with colleagues and friends, people are hungry to explore their available options.

Note: I’m not anti Cisco! Over the last years I’ve recommended and installed a range of Cisco solutions, many of which have been successful deployed and continue to work today. I’m for the best of breed solutions, selecting what works for your use case, this includes selecting from Cisco products.