Plus ca change. Plus c'est la meme chose. Nothing ever stays the same, but today's networking industry is currently going through an unprecedented period of upheaval. The IT world's corporate big guns are consolidating.
3Com shocked users last week by pulling the plug on its enterprise networking business, Cabletron's long drawn out breakup took another turn last week and even the mighty Lucent is spinning off divisions.
This could be the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end. A shrinking number of super-sized multinational companies with annual profits which dwarf the domestic products of many nations are taking over the IT world.
The smaller companies are being acquired at an alarming rate, and it seems that the last remaining mega-monolithic corporate monsters are invulnerable.
But we need to take a leaf out of our history books to realise that this is not the case.
The lions versus the foxes
Although it's shocking to see the rate of change, there is nothing going on here that's not been happening forever. Only the players and the backdrop are different. The lessons of history are played over and over again in ever-replicating cycles.
But the writing on the historical wall is not good news for the mega corps. According to Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, throughout time the lions and the foxes have been battling it out in a never-ending struggle for total domination.
Pareto said that at any one time the lions are the ruling elite, but are constantly under attack by weaker, but more dynamic foxes. Ultimately the lions are worn down by the foxes, which then take over as rulers and become like the staid and complacent lions they defeated. In turn they are themselves defeated by the next generation of foxes which rises up to challenge them.
Staying at the top of the food chain
Today's networking lions include the likes of Cisco, Siemens, Lucent and Nortel. Their market muscle is phenomenal and their power over the directions in which technology is going is awesome. But anyone who assumes that they will always be on top of the pile is a fool. The higher the big players climb, the further they will have to fall.
No matter how dominant a company becomes, there will always be scores of hungry newcomers waiting to stab them in the back and take their place.
The rate of technological change means this corporate Darwinism will never slow down. And nor should it. For network managers the result is constant innovation as the players try to make their offerings faster, better and cheaper. While we cannot afford to ignore the big guns that dominate, we should always keep our eyes open for the young pretenders.
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