& cplSiteName &

Cisco Modules Pay Off – for Other Companies

Craig Matsumoto
News Analysis
Craig Matsumoto
3/14/2012
50%
50%

It's well known that Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) puts a hefty markup on optical modules, selling standardized parts at a Cisco-branded (i.e. pretty expensive) price.

That's turning optical modules into a healthy business -- not just for Cisco, but for the used-equipment vendors that can sell the same modules without the Cisco markup. Companies such as Curvature and OSI Hardware have been doing this for years, and the growth of the business has them thinking about publicizing it more overtly.

NHR is even going a step further. It's signed a deal to be a U.S. provider of certain modules from startup Menara Networks , Light Reading has learned.

That's a change, because until now, NHR and OSI have bought modules from the same vendors Cisco uses, such as Finisar Corp. (Nasdaq: FNSR). Now, NHR will have Cisco-compatible modules that it will claim are better than Cisco's. The gray market has gone legit.

Cisco's blessing
The pluggable optical interfaces on a Cisco switch or router come in a standard size and shape and run at specified speeds. All these things are defined in multiservice agreements (MSAs), which means they should be interchangeable. Among other things, that keeps the prices down.

Sometime around 2003, Cisco started putting a "quality ID" into the modules' software, and Cisco's Internetwork Operating System (IOS) was programmed to flash a warning if that identifier wasn't found. In essence, Cisco started distinguishing between the modules it bought off-the-shelf and the modules someone else bought off-the-shelf.

Customers grumbled, and it wasn't long before NHR started selling used Cisco modules. A little more than five years ago, the company went to the next obvious step, buying the MSA modules from the same suppliers Cisco uses. One software tweak applied by the distributor, and bingo -- Cisco-compatible modules.

OSI, smaller and younger (four years old, with founders from NHR), likewise got into the modules business "as soon as we saw the demand was as high as it is," says President Jordan Quivey.

Both companies' prices beat Cisco's substantially, which of course is the whole point. NHR officials say it's common for their modules to go for half the price that Cisco demands. An OSI salesperson tells Light Reading he's sold $195 SFP+ modules that Cisco would sell for $1,050.

Back in 2006, two-thirds of readers in a Light Reading poll said they'd be willing to use cheap clones of Cisco optical modules. The real-world numbers haven't gotten to that point yet -- "I would be shocked if it was over 15 or 20 percent of this market," says Mike Lodato, NHR's senior vice president of sales and marketing -- but they've continued to grow.

Even with almost no marketing effort behind its modules, "we got close to $20 million last year on that business alone," Lodato says.

OSI operates on a smaller scale -- 500 to 1,000 modules per month, one sales representative says -- but it's recognizing the attention its module sales can bring. "We're finding some clients that are only using us for our optics," Quivey says.

What's the use?
Unpopular though the markups may be, Cisco has some justification for them. Here's what Cisco had to say when queried by Light Reading for this story:

In addition to our ongoing commitment to innovation, Cisco invests significant resources, including rigorous product and system level qualification. This ensures that our optical networking technologies perform to our customers' defined environment and specifications and meet NEBS, EMI/EMC and other relevant safety and compliance standards at a system level. The performance of so called Cisco-compatible technologies has been inconsistent and unpredictable, as they do not undergo the same system-level pre-production qualification and compliance testing on Cisco platforms. Our customers find tremendous value and peace of mind knowing that their networks are guaranteed by Cisco to maintain exceptional performance and reliability.


Lodato concedes Cisco's policy can improve quality. Namely, it can weed out some counterfeit modules that have Cisco's label slapped on them.

Counterfeiting of Cisco products has become a big business -- $76 million over the span of a few years, according to a report in 2008. In fact, that was one motivation for OSI to start putting its own label on Cisco-compatible modules. "We didn't want to sell Cisco-branded optics because of the chance of counterfeit," Quivey says.

NHR and OSI use their own labels; it's clear you're not buying a Cisco module, so the chances of counterfeit are lower. Both companies offer lifetime warranties on the modules, and they're well known enough that they're not likely to drive away under cover of night.

Going rogue
NHR's deal with Menara takes the concept even further. It's one thing to buy from Cisco's own suppliers and yet another to sell parts that Cisco doesn't offer at all.

It's certainly a break for Menara, which is essentially an engineering company and one that hasn't had a foothold into Cisco. Likewise, NHR isn't exactly an optical research powerhouse.

You'll recall that Menara won a Leading Lights award back in 2008 for being able to pack an OTN chip into its 10Gbit/s DWDM transceiver. As with IP-over-DWDM (a technology Cisco offers), this eliminates a transponder from the network. (See LR Names 2008 Leading Lights Winners.)

With the Menara deal, NHR plans to get aggressive about marketing its optical modules. So far, its model has been one of "would you like fries with that?" Lodato says, with customers getting some optics thrown in with their equipment. The hope was that they'd find out the NHR optics worked just fine and come back for more.

Now NHR is going to really test the market demand for Cisco-compatible optics reaches. "We're going to actually try this year," Lodato says.

For more
Light Reading's past coverage of Cisco's optics.

— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading

(7)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
Pete Baldwin
50%
50%
Pete Baldwin,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:39:30 PM
re: Cisco Modules Pay Off – for Other Companies


Here's a possible justification for Cisco's optical markup:


At OFC/NFOEC, I caught just a minute of a panel that included Andrew Schmitt of Infonetics. I didn't put a quote in the story because this was literally 1 minute of the panel and I didn't catch the full context -- I was walking past, to another destination -- but a bit of the conversation caught my ear.


Think of it this way: Cisco is using a pay-as-you-grow model. The chassis cost is relatively low, and the "real" cost of the system gets added on as you add optics.


The same is true for line cards, so it's not an unusual model.  Does it sound more fair if it's put in those terms?


(Of course, the error message you get when using non-Cisco optics would still be a source of irritiation for customers. I think part of what they're sore about is that feeling of being railroaded into one choice, when MSA modules are supposed to allow for many choices.)

-0
50%
50%
-0,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:39:27 PM
re: Cisco Modules Pay Off – for Other Companies


I think you got it wrong. I believe the real reason is that networking industry (and Cisco as part of it) sells software cheaper than it costs and hardware at premium. Software - especially for routers - is sold either at loss or with minimal margin. Inflated hardware prices make up for that.


Vendors have hundreds (in case of big companies like Cisco - thousands) of developers working on sw and it costs tons of money. OTOH software prices in catalogue are frequently mere thousands of $. Compare price of a single licence of MS Win + Office vs price of, say, CRS-1 software. And then compare how many licences sells MS and CSCO.


This whole model is going to change (well, it is already changing). In part because innovation cycle is slowing down. This means we will be paying more for software and less for hw.


When each component sells for the price it costs grey market will loose its attractiveness. Not sure when that will happen though.


 

salam@menaranet.com
50%
50%
salam@menaranet.com,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:39:26 PM
re: Cisco Modules Pay Off – for Other Companies


Dear editor


You have mistakenly identified Menara Networks as an Israeli company. It is in fact a US company with 100% designed-in-US and madie-in-US products. Thank you for bringing this accidental editorial inaccuracy to your readers attention.


 


Salam   

Rush21120
50%
50%
Rush21120,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/5/2012 | 5:39:24 PM
re: Cisco Modules Pay Off – for Other Companies


Actually Cisco optics have their own business unit with SPA, etc, there is no such business unit as optical any more although products are optical and ethernet products have optical interfaces but optical revenue is not recogonized as part of those products or business uinit. It was created that way back in 2005-6 and still holds true.  I unsuccessfully argued in Cisco (Senior Optical Product Manager, no longer with Cisco) to allow revenue and margins for my products.  There seems to be some confusion over locking or allowing foreign SFF optics.  SFF optics have the ability to put in a specific vendor code when created by the supplier, this is what Cisco and others do to lock their systems to a specific code, in other words if you don't have the code you may not be able to use the SFF.  Some of Cisco's products allow other SFF products to work but create MA or an constant alarm message stating a mismatch.  While some Cisco products won't allow anything but Cisco coded SFF optics, which means you buy from Cisco, used market or black market clone.  I can attest to the effort needed to qualify optical SFF or discretes, its expensive; but Cisco was more than paid back within the first year to that effort.  On other note is warranty, if you don't use a correct product (I.e. Cisco) then you can void your warranty.  Additionally there is huge revenue in Cisco warranties.  Pretty good model for Cisco.

Pete Baldwin
50%
50%
Pete Baldwin,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:39:22 PM
re: Cisco Modules Pay Off – for Other Companies


Thanks for the correction, Salam. I must have gotten Menara's backstory mixed up with one of the chip companies I've talked to over the years.

Pete Baldwin
50%
50%
Pete Baldwin,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:39:21 PM
re: Cisco Modules Pay Off – for Other Companies


> I think you got it wrong. I believe the real reason is that networking industry (and Cisco as part of it) sells software cheaper than it costs and hardware at premium. Software - especially for routers - is sold either at loss or with minimal margin. Inflated hardware prices make up for that.


Could be. You're right that that model would have to change; these vendors are already thinking of themselves as software companies more so than hardware.


Pete Baldwin
50%
50%
Pete Baldwin,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:39:20 PM
re: Cisco Modules Pay Off – for Other Companies


Thanks for the extra info, Rush. Yes, other companies did take advantage of the vendor lock-in code (Extreme was one) but my understanding was that they'd backed off (Extreme, in particular). It's not like I've extensively checked this, though.


Again, I think the core issue behind all this is that some customers are feeling railroaded and bullied. Which opens up these other avenues for getting the optics.

Light Reading’s Upskill U is a FREE, interactive, online educational resource that delivers must-have education on themes that relate to the overall business transformation taking place in the communications industry.
NEXT COURSE
Friday, September 30, 1:00PM EDT
Gigabit & the Great Migration
Robert Howald, Vice President, Network Architecture, Comcast
UPCOMING COURSE SCHEDULE
Wednesday, October 5, 1:00PM EDT
Gigabit & Smart Cities
Joe Kochan, COO & Co-Founder, US Ignite
Friday, October 7, 1:00PM EDT
Gigabit & DOCSIS 3.1
Ty Pearman, Director, Access Architecture, Comcast
Wednesday, October 19, 1:00PM EDT
Securing a Virtual World
Rita Marty, Executive Director, Mobility and Cloud Security, Chief Security Office, AT&T
in association with:
From The Founder
Light Reading today starts a new voyage as part of a larger Enterprise.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
Charting the CSP's Future
Six different communications service providers join to debate their visions of the future CSP, following a landmark presentation from AT&T on its massive virtualization efforts and a look back on where the telecom industry has been and where it's going from two industry veterans.
LRTV Interviews
CenturyLink: SD-WAN Customers Looking for Value Not Cost Savings

9|30|16   |   5:31   |   (0) comments


At NFV & Carrier SDN in Denver, CenturyLink's Eric Nowak told Light Reading that when customers launch SD-WAN, they aren't necessary looking to save money, but instead they are looking for more value from what they're spending. He also shared some unique case studies and lessons learned from launching SD-WAN services.
LRTV Custom TV
Flexible Deployment Approaches for the Gigabit Services Evolution

9|29|16   |     |   (0) comments


For many operators, the gigabit evolution begins with the shift from DOCSIS 3.0 to DOCSIS 3.1. But that move represents a change not only in the protocol itself, but in the approach to architecting their entire DOCSIS delivery chain -- from the headend to the outside plant and home gateway components.

Jonathan Ruff, senior director of global technical ...

LRTV Interviews
Level 3 VP: Enterprises Need More for Less

9|29|16   |   05:27   |   (0) comments


Andrew Dugan, Level 3 group vice president of global technology and IT, says enterprises need more bandwidth and they need it faster and with greater security, but they want to spend less, if possible. They are looking to carriers to reduce their network complexity and help protect them from cyberattacks as well.
LRTV Interviews
CenturyLink: SDN/NFV Pose New Interconnection Possibilities

9|28|16   |   04:37   |   (0) comments


Network operators should develop new APIs and business processes for reselling virtual assets to each other, says CenturyLink's Bill Walker. That will enable them to build digital business portfolios that help them avoid becoming commodity transport providers.
LRTV Interviews
Level 3: Overcoming Terror of Being Supplier, Integrator & Developer

9|28|16   |     |   (0) comments


At Light Reading's NFV & Carrier SDN event in Denver, Travis Ewert of Level 3 Communications said there is terror in becoming supplier, integrator and developer, but it can be overcome and be cost effective.
LRTV Custom TV
Introducing IoT World News

9|27|16   |   01:43   |   (0) comments


Self-driving cars, medical sensors, smart cities... and refrigerators. In order to address the huge scope of IoT, KNect365 has created a unique online community that will help businesses to understand and monetize the opportunities that live within the IoT market. We look forward to welcoming you to IoT World News -- your gateway to a better connected future.
LRTV Interviews
AT&T: Reusable Functions Next NFV Key

9|27|16   |   06:03   |   (0) comments


The next generation of NFV has to break functions down into reusable software chunks, making everything much more cloud-like.
LRTV Interviews
Masergy on Security: Attackers Gaining Upper Hand

9|27|16   |   5:10   |   (2) comments


At Light Reading's NFV & Carrier SDN event in Denver, Ray Watson, vice president of Global Technology at Masergy, says that because of the growth in virtualization, the threat landscape is shifting in favor of the attackers. As a result, service providers need to think beyond just defending the perimeter and take a more holistic approach to security.
LRTV Interviews
Verizon Takes Next Step on Biz Virtualization Journey

9|26|16   |   4:38   |   (2) comments


At September's NFV & Carrier SDN event in Denver, Light Reading sat down with Victoria Lonker, director of Product and New Business Innovation at Verizon, to chat about where the carrier is with delivering virtualized services to business customers.
LRTV Interviews
Global Services: The $40B Face-Off

9|26|16   |   05:53   |   (1) comment


More service providers than ever before are battling it out to win a slice of what is now a $40 billion global communications services pie, explains Ovum Principal Analyst David Molony.
LRTV Documentaries
MEC Congress: The Key Takeaways

9|22|16   |   03:25   |   (3) comments


Three key takeaways from the Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) Congress in Munich, Germany.
Wagner’s Ring
Time to Shut Up About 'Dumb Pipes'

9|22|16   |     |   (20) comments


Service providers can't compete with OTT players. It just isn't in their DNA. Instead, service providers need to embrace what they're good at -- providing reliable, secure connectivity.
Upcoming Live Events
November 3, 2016, The Montcalm Marble Arch, London
November 30, 2016, The Westin Times Square, New York City
December 1, 2016, The Westin Times Square, New York, NY
December 6-8, 2016, The Westin Excelsior, Rome
May 16-17, 2017, Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
Hot Topics
Eurobites: Telefónica Taps Juniper for Network Security
Paul Rainford, Assistant Editor, Europe, 9/26/2016
Open Source Getting on My Nerves
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 9/26/2016
Telstra Sees Quadrupled Data Capacity by 2020
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 9/28/2016
Powell Kills the Cable Show
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 9/29/2016
Telcos Need App Partners to Make Edge Profitable
Iain Morris, News Editor, 9/28/2016
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
Light Reading CEO Steve Saunders and UXP Systems CEO Gemini Waghmare discuss the strategic importance of digital identity for operators in the midst of transformation.
Join us for an in-depth interview between Steve Saunders of Light Reading and Alexis Black Bjorlin of Intel as they discuss the release of the company's Silicon Photonics platform, its performance, long-term prospects, customer expectations and much more.
Animals with Phones
There's Nothing Like Missing a Full Minute of Pokémon Go Click Here
Live Digital Audio

A vital part of increasing the number of women in comms is transforming the ways companies can support and empower women. While progressive company policies that support both men and women in achieving work-life balance are a step in the right direction, creating a company culture that supports those policies can at times be more challenging.

During this show, we'll talk to Lynn Comp, Senior Director of Industry and Sales Enabling (ISE) in the Network Platforms Group at Intel, about why those challenges exist and how companies can overcome them. She'll provide insight into how Intel has worked to create a culture that supports work-life balance, and provide steps and guidance for other companies wishing to do the same. We will also leave plenty of time to get your questions answered live on the air.