The origin of Cisco is frequently credited to Stanford University students Len
Bosack and Sandy Lerner, but in reality the ball was already rolling by the time they
became involved in Stanford's "wide area" networking projects.
Between 1980 and 1982, Bill Yeager worked to develop a dedicated hardware and
software solution to connect the disparate Ethernet segments that were quickly
blossoming around the Stanford campus. With the help of Andy Bechtolsheim (who
later founded SUN Microsystems), he created a stand-alone solution to route traffic
between the networks which Xerox's Ethernet technology had made possible.
By 1985, Bosack and Lerner had entered the scene and helped develop the
software which allowed the routers to connect networks of different types thanks to
ARPANET's new "internet protocols". They recognized the commercial viability of
selling multiprotocol routers and started a new company -- Cisco Systems, named after
San Francisco and using the Golden Gate bridge as a logo.
The router business exploded quickly and Bosack and Lerner knew they were in over
their heads -- operating out of the garage1 was not going to last long and
orders were coming in faster than two people could deal with them. To cope with the
reality of running a business, venture capitalist Don Valentine from Sequoia Capital
stepped in. He set up a management chain and led the fledgling corporation into the
world of billion dollar companies.
1990 brought big changes for Cisco. As it began offering shares to the public,
co-founder Lerner was asked to leave by a number of executives. Although Bosack soon
followed, Cisco was poised to grow radically during the next decade. Together, Bosack
and Lerner made $170 million by selling their shares of the company.
Cisco makes over $20 billion a year on sales of networking equipment and software.
From their headquarters in San Jose, CA, they coordinate operations at three major
sites in the U.S., one in the U.K. and one in Australia. Cisco maintains a network of
over 400 sales offices in 60 countries.
President and CEO John Chambers has been with Cisco since 1991 and was promoted
to his present position in 1995. Under his influence, Cisco has grown to become the
largest company in the world and only recently slipped back because of the
tech stock "slump".
The name Cisco is synonymous with routers in many peoples' minds. Almost every
Internet peering point is dominated by Cisco equipment, and their routers can be found
in wiring closets of enterprise networks, ISPs and even residences around the
These flagship line of products from Cisco are not given catchy names based on
birds of prey, carnivorous cats or Roman gods; each is assigned a number. From a
router's model number, one can quickly determine how powerful it is and what kind of
interfaces it can support. (Which also brings up the situation of Router Envy, but
that's a topic for another node.)
Major router series which are currently shipping:
Contrary to many rumors, Cisco routers are not incredibly overpriced.
Granted, the list price to end users appears to be higher than most of their
competitors' products, but most Cisco routers can be purchased through authorized
resellers for deep discounts from list price. Additionally, there is an enormous
market for used Cisco equipment. Most ISPs which are not large enough to sign big
contracts with Cisco run their networks on second-hand routers.
Switches and Hubs
Cisco's Catalyst line of switches, like their routers, are assigned numbers based
on their capability. The "low-end" switches are sold in fixed configurations and the
larger, modular switches take blades with various interfaces on them. Some of the
highest-end Layer 3 Catalyst switches blur the lines between switches and routers by
offering IP-level routing and services to an enormous number of ports.
Selected Catalyst products:
All of Cisco's routers and most of their switches utilize a software product called
IOS, Cisco's Internetwork Operating System. While each implementation of
IOS is unique and designed with a particular router in mind, IOS presents a similar
interface to most of their product line. When someone is trained to build Cisco
networks, most of the hands-on portion of the training involves working with IOS either
from its command line interface or from a graphical interface like Cisco's
ConfigMaker. Like Cisco's other products, IOS is modular and is available in several
versions to suit the needs of the network being built or upgraded. A license for basic
IP IOS on a router usually costs around $15 and goes into the thousands to support
VoIP, ATM, and dial-up.
Other Cisco software products include programs for load balancing, LAN/WAN
management, and network design.
Cisco's access servers, AS5300 and AS5800 are quickly joining Lucent
(formerly Livingston) as the standard for terminating dial-up calls at ISPs. While
some shops continue to use 3Com, Patton, and Ascend, Cisco's servers are providing
port densities that were previously unimaginable.
Through recent acquisition of Aironet, Cisco has begun marketing wireless
networking equipment. They also sell a variety of security products like the PIX
firewall and CiscoSecure IDS.
The Cisco Press publishes a variety of books on networking topics and specific Cisco
technologies as well as training guides for the Cisco certification tests: CCNA,
CCNP, CCDA, CCDP and the mystical CCIE.
Cisco Systems, Inc.
170 West Tasman Drive
San Jose, CA 95134-1619
Phone: (408) 526-4000
Toll Free: (800) 326-1941
Fax: (408) 526-4100
1 Other famous garage companies: Apple Computer, Hayes Microcomputer
2 The least-powerful, most cost-effective Cisco router that can terminate a
3 The 2500 line will probably be EOLed soon and users will be transitioned
to 1600 and 2600 routers as necessary
4 These things LOOK like they cost a ton. And they do. Note: Birthday
presents are welcomed.
5 These look like blue refrigerators but they generate significantly more