Is Cisco still the router king?

Juniper may be creeping into Cisco's territory, but a recent study found that while 8% of network admins were considering purchasing Juniper routers, 86% were looking to Cisco.

Despite a changing marketplace, recent security scares and grumblings about high equipment prices, Cisco users are staying loyal to the leading maker of routers and networking equipment.

A recent survey of medium and large organizations by Infonetics Research found that San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems Inc. continues to meet the needs of most network administrators.

Results in the study, "User Plans for Routers, North America 2005," also suggested the hardware and infrastructure giant is vulnerable around concerns about Cisco's pricing, which is perceived by admins as being higher overall than its competitors.

Most of the 180 respondents to the survey gave 3Com, Adtran, Juniper Networks and Nortel Networks better scores than Cisco for pricing. Side-to-side comparisons of routers are difficult, however, because features on the devices are rarely an exact match.

Among admins shopping for new routers, 8% had Juniper on their short lists for new acquisitions. Nortel, which showed a 4% share of the respondents' installed bases, was on 4% of the short lists.

"Juniper made a strong showing out of nowhere," said Infonetics analyst Matthias Machowinski. "How that's going to translate into market share is another question. But it is certainly a good position to be in."

Whether Juniper or any other vendor can realistically challenge Cisco remains to be seen. Indeed, despite what they said were higher prices, 86% of respondents to the survey had Cisco on their short lists for new acquisitions.

Infonetics' statistics for the router market in Q2 2005 gave Cisco 79% of total revenues. All of the company's competitors were in the single digits, according to Machowinski.

The survey looked at organizations in six industry sectors: education, federal government, finance, healthcare, manufacturing and retail. Along these lines, loyalty to Cisco depended partly on whether the need for network uptime and increased security trumped equipment costs.

Cisco customers enjoy a high return on their hardware investments, said Cisco spokeswoman Nancy Darma. Cisco's routers' "integration of security, voice and wireless into a single platform has helped customers dramatically improve productivity, while reducing deployment and operational costs and complexity," Darma said.

"It depends on how critical networking is to your business," Machowinski said. "If you are a grocery store relying on credit card transactions, you are going to be willing to spend more money." The Infonetics survey found adherence to standards and high network availability among the admins' top criteria when choosing new routers.

But respondents also listed device management features as another important consideration.

"More expensive routers often offer more features," Machowinski said. "Some of them allow you to make critical patches," and the devices can be managed remotely, he said.

"A highly distributed enterprise may not have a person at every location," Machowinski said. "In that case, a more expensive device that can be remotely managed saves money in the long run."

"Price is always an issue," said George Kohrman, assistant director of network infrastructure at Western Michigan University at Kalamazoo. "Perhaps if we were a Fortune 500 company it would be way down the list."

Western Michigan University can be fairly called a Cisco shop, although it has added a few Juniper routers recently.

Compatibility with existing routers is a major concern for Western Michigan University. "One thing that is important for us is for the left hand to talk to the right hand," Kohrman said. "Price is not the only bottom line. Sometimes manpower [required to ensure devices communicate properly] is important to consider."

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