The History of Silicon Valley's Networking Legend: Cisco Systems

Photo courtesy of Flickr: Ed Schipul

Cisco Systems is a household name that has become synonymous with networking. It is hard, in fact, to even have a conversation about network technology such as routers and servers - especially in a corporate environment - without mentioning the tech giant's name. Of course, like all businesses, Cisco did not start out as a huge corporation but instead got its start the way many Silicon Valley tech ventures did - as the brainchild of a couple of friendly computer nerds.

A Brief History of Cisco Systems

In this post, I want to take you back through the rich history of Cisco Systems and cover the role they played in shaping the world of networking and network computers.

Founded roughly 30 years ago - way back in December of 1984, for all of you young whipper-snappers out there - Cisco (named after the city of San Francisco) was the brainchild of two married staff members who worked for the computer lab at the prestigious Stanford University. The first was Leonard Bosack, who worked for the computer science department, and the second was his wife, Sandy Lerner, who was responsible for handling the computers for the Graduate School of Business.

The dynamic duo set out to connect the networks from their separate departments (and two different locations) together by running sneaker-net-style networking cable between the two locations, interlinking the cabling with bridges and routers. Rather quickly, the two came to the conclusion that they needed a method to allow the networks to communicate and set out to create a multi-protocol router capable of handling the local area protocols necessary for the networks to "speak" to one another properly.

Interestingly, Stanford University accused the two Cisco founders of stealing the technology from a student by the name of William Yeager (who would later go on to help create the IMAP mail protocol) who had allegedly created the software for the multiple-protocol router years before. The university also claimed that Lerner and Bosack copied their design from Stanford's own "Blue Box" router and forced the two inventors to resign their positions at the university.

Not to be deterred, Cisco's founders worked out an agreement with the university and Yeager, whereby they licensed the technology to the two upstarts.

With the licensing in hand, Lerner and Bosack marched boldly forward and hired their first employee in 1986. A year later, in 1987, they secured venture capital from Sequoia Capital, and by the end of 1989, they boasted 111 employees, three products, and revenues of more than $27 million.

In February of 1990, the company went public on the NASDAQ stock exchange, and shortly thereafter - for reasons that are somewhat unclear - Lerner was let go from the company. Not pleased with this decision by the new board members, Bosack decided to support his wife and resigned his position in protest.

The loss of the founding members didn't seem to slow down the growth of the tech juggernaut, as it continued to invent new technologies and gobble up other tech firms to increase its offerings.

Today, the company offers a huge array of networking products and solutions, including network storage systems, routers and switches, servers for small and enterprise-level businesses, and VOIP products, and it has even ventured out into video recording with the acquisition of Pure Digital Technologies, inventors of the Flip Video camera.

Interestingly enough, the company has also ventured into researching technologies to extend the reach of the Internet - much like Google and Facebook - with two projects dubbed CLEO and IRIS, both of which hope to extend the range of networking servers and access to outer space.

Currently, the company continues to see a great deal of success, bringing in a whopping $48 billion in revenue during 2013 and employing more than 75,000 employees worldwide. Despite its success, the company is not without controversy, however. Most recently (and perhaps notably), the company is under fire for spying allegations, including installing software to monitor network users and working with the NSA (National Security Agency) to allow them access to data across their networks.

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