NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Not so long ago, Cisco ( CSCO) was the networking equivalent of Michael Jordan, seemingly untouchable as its vast array of products helped power the Internet explosion. But two consecutive quarters of weak outlook and reported slowdowns in some of its sectors have dragged the company's stock down more than 33% over the last 12 months. Analysts are now questioning Cisco's long-term strategy.
While investors wait for Cisco to sort itself out, analysts are pointing to a handful of smaller Cisco competitors, firms that are effectively beating the beast both in terms of stock price gains and growth speed. Enter Juniper Networks ( JNPR), Riverbed ( RVBD), Polycom ( PLCM), Aruba Networks ( ARUN) and Fortinet ( FTNT). "End users (fundamentals) and investors (multiples) overwhelmingly are showing a preference for best in class players," said Paul Mansky, an analyst at Canaccord Genuity, in an email to TheStreet. Juniper and Riverbed -- not Cisco -- fulfill this criteria, he said, along with Aruba in wireless LAN and Fortinet in security. And Polycom, which recently hit a new 52-week high, has also been grabbing plenty of attention as it battles Cisco in telepresence, also known as Cisco CEO John Chambers' pet voice and video communications venture. Read on for details on why these smaller companies spell upside.