Busy, busy, busy…

February saw a lot of activity on the networking front, with two of the industry’s biggest players make significant presentations of their future direction.
Busy, busy, busy…
By Eliot Beer
Thu 01 Mar 2007 12:00 AM

Last month was, by any stretch of the imagination, a hectic one in the world of networking. Cisco’s Networkers event kicked off the month, and since then we’ve had both 3GSM and Alcatel-Lucent’s annual Enterprise Forum come and go.

We have write-ups of all three events in this issue, but it was interesting to see the contrasts between Cisco’s event and A-L.

Alcatel-Lucent has been much in the news lately, for all the wrong reasons – job cuts, massive losses and the like. Add to this speculation the merged company is struggling to reconcile the corporate cultures of the former Lucent and Alcatel, and you might expect a rather muted forum.

To be sure, the A-L show was not on the scale of Cisco’s mega-event in Cannes. But it would have been a surprise if it were – for all its dominance in the telco and SP spheres, A-L is a much smaller challenger in the enterprise space.

But the mood of the conference was determinedly upbeat and positive; out came the flashy graphics and video, along speakers including Pat Russo, CEO of Alcatel-Lucent.

The contrast between the Cisco and A-L speakers was interesting – Cisco had its head of emerging technologies; A-L had its CEO. Cisco had a futurologist; A-L had a management consultant. Cisco had a high-tech demo; A-L had a high-profile customer.

You can draw your own conclusions as to what significance – if any – this should have on the vendors’ respective share prices. For my money, Cisco’s performance showed a company at the head of its game, but one which needs to break out of its current business model in order to achieve its desired growth.

A-L, on the other hand, came across as a company which needed to impress, needed to demonstrate both its commitment to the enterprise space, and its ability to perform in this space.

While not referring directly to job cuts or losses, Russo did acknowledge the “uncertainty” which has arisen from the newly-merged company’s integration plan, which she said was “progressing well”.

Despite the criticism from press and analysts, my inclination is to give A-L the benefit of the doubt – for now. A merger of this size was never going to be easy, and anyone who expected instant results was naïve at best.

But between Alcatel’s strong enterprise legacy, and Bell Labs’ powerful reputation in R&D, the new company has a lot going for it – if it can make everything work on an internal level.

And on the enterprise side at least, A-L has the Cisco “elephant” firmly in its sights. Not only was this clear from the presentations from A-L top brass, but it also came through in the products and solutions on display at the forum.

The striking thing about the product displays, for me, was how similar to Cisco’s latest portfolio they were: mobility, security, convergence – all familiar themes. But backed by A-L’s strong telco heritage, the company obviously hopes it can gain an edge over its dominant rival.

It will take a lot to beat Cisco – it may not be possible for any company to best the networking giant, at least for now. But Alcatel-Lucent seems to have the drive and the focus to have a go.

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