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Long ago in the Mesozoic mainframe era of monolithic domination of the market by a single vendor, the vendor had enormous power over the customer. That power was exercised in a variety of ways, including manipulation of pricing, control over product delivery, availability of technical resources, and accessibility to upper management. Any customer whose vendor loyalty was questionable (i.e. a customer with the audacity to evaluate a product from a competitor) would become a potential target.
Connections at the top between customer executives and vendor executives were often so well-wired (at the golf course and other venues) that a naïve IT administrator who attempted to save his company money by sourcing from a competitor of the incumbent vendor could be fired on the spot. The old adage you can’t get fired for buying IBM also meant that you could get fired for buying anything else.
Thankfully, those days are long gone, and customers now insist that their supplying vendors abide by open systems. In the storage networking space, even customers who traditionally single source their storage products are constantly pressuring their vendors to embrace open standards and open interoperability.
Politics, however, are driven by deeper economic interests, and the basic economics of ongoing market competition repeatedly surface in new and sometimes strange political alignments. Although there are large players in today’s storage market, no single vendor has had the pervasive presence and power to steer the market in its own direction.
But now Cisco has entered the storage networking arena. It is probably more accurate to say that Cisco has been forced into storage networking by basic economics. Any vendor who saturates an individual market, as Cisco has with conventional IP networking, must find new market areas or face the prospect of flat quarter-to-quarter growth and declining share value.
Storage networking has created an entirely new market space with sustainable, long-term growth opportunity. Although Cisco has not been a pioneer in SAN technology and so far lacks market penetration in storage, its sheer size and dominance of mainstream networks positions it to become a significant player.