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.
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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.
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 was a dedicated network node (Cisco 2500), later superseded by the Cisco 7000 and 8500.
The company focuses on delivering networking security and data centre technologies for businesses of every size. Cisco is actively developing AI, VoIP and IoT, as all these technologies have a foundation of network connectivity, which is the core technology Cisco is best known for.
Cisco's mergers and acquisitions
Cisco has maintained a strategic approach to acquisition since the company's founding.
For example, 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.
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As technologies appeared, such as TV set-top boxes, IoT, internet protocol-based communications, digital security, and, more recently, AI, Cisco made several acquisitions in these technology sectors. These include WebEx, Intucell, Cognitive Security, SolveDirect, Sourcefire, and ThousandEyes, all in the cyber security space.
Cisco has continued to acquire businesses that expanded or bolstered its core network connectivity products and services. Acquisitions included Embrane, ParStream and CloudLock, to name just a few.
Key people at Cisco
Cisco was founded by husband and wife (now divorced) Sandy Lerner and Leonard Bosack, who worked as computer scientists for Stanford University. The founding members of the management team also included Kirk Lougheed, Greg Satz and Richard Troiano.
When the company went public in 1990, John Morgridge was appointed CEO. Five years later, Morgridge was succeeded by John T. Chambers. The current Cisco CEO is Chuck Robbins, who also acts as Chairman.
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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.