Everything you need to know about Cisco

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Cisco is best known as a network hardware developer of telecommunications equipment that supports the internet as we know it today, with platforms such as WebEx and Jabber.

The company is also a significant player in the expanding IoT space, with its founders developing the LAN (Local Area Network) concept, which now forms the bedrock of business communications.

Cisco's company history

The company was created almost by accident in December 1984 by two Stanford University computer scientists, Sandy Lerner and Leonard Bosack. The founders, who were married at the time, wanted a way to communicate electronically as they were based in different areas of the campus.

Cisco at a glance

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins pictured during the opening keynote at Cisco Live 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

(Image credit: Cisco)

Founded: 1984

Current CEO: Chuck Robbins (pictured)

HQ: San Jose, California

Annual revenue: $58 billion (2023)

Both were involved with the university's computing facilities. Bosack realized that the existing router technology developed in the 1970s by other Stanford students could be used to connect their offices together. Lerner and Bosack were instrumental in developing what we know today as Local Area Networks (LANs). The couple saw the commercial possibilities for other businesses, and ultimately founded Cisco Systems Inc, taking its name from their base in San Francisco.

Cisco enters the market

1985 saw the sale of Cisco's first product, consisting of a router that could support multiple networks, to Digital Equipment Corporation. After an injection of venture capital, the company went public in 1990 under the tenure of John Morgridge, who became CEO in 1988.

Across the 1990s, Cisco embraced IP (Internet Protocol). The acquisition of companies like Crescendo Communications and Kalpana further strengthened Cisco's portfolio, allowing the company to offer a comprehensive range of networking solutions.

During this period, Cisco introduced the Cisco 7000 series router, a powerful and modular platform that became a cornerstone for large-scale networking deployments. The Cisco 2500 series router also became very popular as it allowed all businesses, no matter their size, to access the burgeoning internet.

In the 1990s, Cisco also developed the Catalyst series of switches and acquired StrataCom, which strengthened Cisco's expertise in wide-area networking. In 1995, John T. Chambers took over as CEO.

Cisco Systems rebrand to Cisco

In the 2000s, Cisco Systems rebranded to become just Cisco and ushered in a new strategy to begin selling their lower-end products to consumers in the Linksys range. The ageing Crescendo architecture was also replaced with the ASR 9000 range of products designed to take advantage of Ethernet, encompassing IOS-XR and hardware based on the EZChip.

2012 saw the sale of Linksys to Belkin International, seeing a shift back to business-focused product development and sales. This period also saw the company restructure with significant job losses. 

Two years later, Cisco began to focus on the expanding IoT space and acquired NDS to allow the company to develop new products in the expanding TV set-top box market. However, the company again moved away from consumer-facing products to focus on business networking, including new cloud-based services, including Cisco Umbrella, for secure VPN connectivity for remote data centers. In 2015, Chuck Robbins took over as CEO.

Since 2018, Cisco has also been developing in the AI space, acquiring Accompany and CloudCherry to give Cisco a presence in this rapidly expanding technology. A year later, the company introduced the Silicon One ASIC chip, offering speeds of 25.6 Tbit/s, directly competing with Intel and Nvidia.

What does Cisco sell?

Cisco's initial product lineup started with dedicated network nodes like the Cisco 2500 series, evolving into more advanced models such as the Cisco 7000 and 8500 series. Nowadays, Cisco's offerings encompass a wide range of networking and IT solutions suitable for businesses of various sizes.

The company is known for its networking hardware, including routers, switches, and wireless systems, with notable products like the Cisco Catalyst series switches and ISR routers forming the core of enterprise networks. Alongside these, Cisco provides cyber security solutions, such as Cisco SecureX and Cisco Umbrella, which help organisations protect against cyber threats.

Cisco also focuses on data centre technologies with products like the Unified Computing System (UCS) and Nexus switches, designed to support modern data centre and cloud environments. In addition, their collaboration tools, including WebEx and Cisco Jabber, facilitate communication and productivity. The company's innovation extends to AI and IoT, integrating these technologies into their solutions to meet the demands of the tech landscape.

Cisco's mergers and acquisitions

Cisco has maintained a strategic approach to acquisition since the company's founding.

To expand and extend its core network protocol technologies, Cisco acquired several companies in the 1990s, most notably Crescendo Communications and Kalpana, which enabled the company to move into the network switching sector.

As new technologies emerged, such as TV set-top boxes, IoT, internet protocol-based communications, digital security, and more recently, AI, Cisco made several acquisitions in these sectors. Notable acquisitions include WebEx, Intucell, Cognitive Security, SolveDirect, Sourcefire, and ThousandEyes, which was key to strengthening its position in cyber security.

Cisco continued to acquire businesses to expand or bolster its core network connectivity products and services. Some key acquisitions include Embrane, ParStream, and CloudLock.

Splunk logo pictured at the keynote theatre for Splunk .conf24 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

(Image credit: ITPro/Rory Bathgate)

In recent years, Cisco's acquisition strategy has been especially aggressive. In 2017 the company acquired AppDynamics, a leading application performance management provider, and Broadsoft, a cloud communication software and services provider.

The company's largest acquisition to date would come in the form of the $28 billion purchase of Splunk in 2023. This acquisition, eventually completed in 2024, aims to enhance Cisco's capabilities in cyber security and data observability.

In 2023 alone, Cisco announced or completed nine acquisitions, including the purchase of Working Group Two (WG2) for $150 million to bolster its mobility services platform. WG2 provides a cloud-based mobile core network platform, which aligns with Cisco's strategy to simplify mobile network architecture.

Key people at Cisco

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins speaking on stage at a large event

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Cisco was founded in 1984 by husband and wife Sandy Lerner and Leonard Bosack, who were computer scientists at Stanford University. The founding management team also included Kirk Lougheed, Greg Satz, and Richard Troiano, who were instrumental in the company's early development.

In 1990, Cisco went public and John Morgridge was appointed CEO. Under his leadership, the company experienced significant growth. In 1995, John Chambers succeeded Morgridge as CEO, steering the company through the internet boom and establishing Cisco as a dominant player in the networking industry.

Today, Chuck Robbins serves as Cisco's CEO and chairman. Robbins, who took over in 2015, has focused on steering Cisco through the digital transformation era, emphasising areas such as cybersecurity, IoT, and cloud computing.

What can customers expect from doing business with Cisco?

Cisco is a major provider of networking equipment and other technology products and services for businesses. The company offers a wide range of hardware, software, and solutions related to networking, cybersecurity, the internet of things, and other areas.

Cisco partners with many other companies and organisations to deliver integrated solutions to customers. It has various partner programs that aim to enable partners to effectively implement and support Cisco products for their customers.

For customers who purchase Cisco products, the company provides technical support, training resources, and services to assist with installation, configuration, and ongoing maintenance. Cisco releases regular product updates and new versions as it continues developing new networking and IT technologies.

In addition to its core business operations, Cisco also has environmental and social responsibility initiatives related to sustainability and corporate citizenship. The company positions itself as a long-term technology partner able to supply secure, reliable, and scalable solutions aligned with customers' business requirements.

Cisco's strategy involves leveraging its broad product portfolio, partner ecosystem, and support capabilities to facilitate digital transformation and enable customers to effectively utilise networking and IT infrastructure.

David Howell

David Howell is a freelance writer, journalist, broadcaster and content creator helping enterprises communicate.

Focussing on business and technology, he has a particular interest in how enterprises are using technology to connect with their customers using AI, VR and mobile innovation.

His work over the past 30 years has appeared in the national press and a diverse range of business and technology publications. You can follow David on LinkedIn.

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