In a market where large-cap tech multiples have been steadily rising, how does one look at a company that trades at just 12 times forward earnings after backing out net cash, maintains strong positions in several multi-billion dollar markets and is smartly upping its exposure to growth areas -- yet also faces major secular challenges that aren't going away?

It's not an easy question to answer, and how one answers it determines how one looks at a Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO)  earnings report and conference call that won't make many bears change their minds, but also gave bulls one or two reasons to think the situation can improve a bit.

Cisco reported July quarter (fiscal fourth-quarter) revenue of $12.13 billion (down 4% annually) and adjusted EPS of $0.61 (down 3%). EPS was in line, while revenue slightly beat a $12.07 billion analyst consensus.

October quarter guidance was also generally in line: Revenue is expected to be down 1% to 3% annually versus a consensus for a 2% drop, and EPS guidance of $0.59 to $0.61 compared with a $0.60 consensus.

On the bright side, Cisco reported that its closely watched product orders were flat last quarter, an improvement from the April quarter's 4% drop. Worth remembering: Both revenue and order growth are getting a small boost from recent acquisitions, especially Cisco's $3.7 billion early-2017 purchase of app performance monitoring software firm AppDynamics.

Shares closed after-hours trading down 2.5% to $31.53. They're a little more than $2 below where they traded before Cisco provided disappointing guidance in May, but still up 5% on the year.

Likely worrying investors: Cisco's switching revenue (still over a third of product revenue) fell 9% annually to $3.44 billion, missing a $3.56 billion consensus. That makes for quite the contrast with rivals Juniper Networks Inc. (JNPR)  and Arista Networks Inc. (ANET) , each of which have seen strong data center switch demand from cloud giants. Juniper's switching revenue rose 32% in Q2 to $276 million; Arista's product revenue rose 50% to $353.9 million.

If you liked this article you might like

Cisco Could Be in Line for Some Big Changes With John Chambers' Exit

7 Essential Rules for Investing in Tech Stocks

Hewlett Packard Enterprise Becomes the Latest Tech Titan to Slash Jobs

Tax Reform Is Coming and That Means Trump Stock Rally Is Ready to Kill It Again

'Trump Stock' Rally Is Back on Track