Iain Stevenson, an analyst with Ovum, said, "Smaller players are leading the way with technologies such as Secure Sockets Layer virtual private networks, caching and often voice over IP.
"Network managers who want to build the best solutions need to keep abreast of what is available in the marketplace."
Mark Fabbi, an analyst at Gartner, said, "In some cases, Cisco has integrated these technologies, for example in VPNs, but in other cases, Cisco routers provide some, but not all, of the functionality of best-of-breed solutions.
"This has led enterprises to rethink how they might build a Wan," said Fabbi. "They might add overlay technology to the network for compression or VPNs. Or they might be looking at their Wan requirements and evaluating the field."
Technology leaders include Peribit, whose Wan compression devices can effectively increase bandwidth by 10 times, and Neoteris, which produces appliances in the increasingly popular client-free SSL VPN space.
Companies such as Expand and Packeteer have also begun to win significant sales by offering products that overlay Cisco networks.
New entrants to traditional markets, the profusion of leading-edge players, the changes in technology and new architectures all reinforce the importance of networking skills to the business.
Clive Longbottom, service director at analyst group Quocirca, said, "The skills required to implement and maintain a network today are not the skills of the 1990s. It is no longer enough to throw gigabits and big boxes at a problem.
"You need people who understand the whole infrastructure. The network people with the best CVs are those that understand the business and the technological needs to best service it."