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TheStreet Open House

Will Cisco's Chambers Stretch the Innovation Envelope?

SAN JOSE, Calif. ( TheStreet) -- Cisco (CSCO) may have paid a heavy price for its bold push into consumer video, but the networking giant can still drive innovation in its core markets, according to experts.

The tech bellwether, which reports first-quarter results after the markets close on Wednesday, is slowly emerging from a major restructuring effort, which involved ditching the Flip video camera, layoffs, and a massive revamp of its management, sales, services and engineering.

Cisco, led by John Chambers, can still drive innovation, say analysts.

Already, though, analysts are wondering where Cisco CEO John Chambers will stretch the company's innovation envelope.

"I think that Cisco will move ahead by pressing additional 'intelligence' into next-generation network and fabric solutions," explained Charles King, principal analyst of tech research firm Pund-IT. "This is total speculation on my part, but we have seen lots of pieces of this come up over the last few years, whereby Cisco could build server and storage capabilities into network switches."

Specifically, King points to Cisco's VCE partnership with storage maker EMC (EMC) and its VMware (VMW) subsidiary as evidence of the company's desire to fuse servers, storage and networking. Aimed at firms looking to quickly build out their cloud infrastructure, the pact centers on pre-packaged blocks of hardware and software, dubbed Vblocks.

Turning switches into a sort of Swiss army knife for the data center, however, would be a major leap forward, reducing customers' need to buy additional gear. Inevitably, this would rile server and storage giants such as Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and IBM (IBM).

Brian Marshall of ISI Group agreed that super-switches could be on the agenda for Cisco, but, like King, acknowledged that they could be some time off.

"I think we're going to see notions like this with the advent of Software-Designed Networking (SDN)," explained Marshall, pointing to an emerging technique for managing network data flows through software. " But I think it's going to be years before we see an architectural switch in enterprise infrastructure."

Nonetheless, Marshall pointed to Cisco's healthy track record of innovation such as the controversial Unified Computing System (UCS), which shattered its relationship with long-standing server partner HP.

"Not everything has failed at Cisco," explained the analyst. "They were the first to load servers with a great amount of memory and, out of nowhere, UCS servers have gone on to gain a great chunk of the market."

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