Oh! I wish, I wish I hadn't killed that fish.
-- Homer Simpson, Treehouse of Horror V

Homer's lament on accidentally changing the future again also describes how I feel about Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO). Oh, I wish Cisco hadn't killed its most important partnerships!

To be clear, Cisco didn't exactly eviscerate its future when the company got into selling its own server systems in direct competition with IBM (NYSE: IBM) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ). CEO John Chambers characterized the just-reported third quarter as "probably the strongest quarter in our history," thanks to record revenues and a strategy that is "hitting on all cylinders." Sales jumped 27% year over year to $10.4 billion while GAAP earnings soared 61% to $0.37 per share. Keep in mind that the third quarter included an extra week this year, adding about 8% to every figure due to calendar shifts rather than business improvements.

But things could have been so different. I'm not convinced that Cisco is doing all that much better than direct competitors Juniper Networks (NYSE: JNPR) and Brocade Communications Systems (Nasdaq: BRCD), both of whom are keeping up with -- or exceeding -- Cisco's organic growth. Simply put, these are salad days for networking businesses and Cisco should have been springboarding off that trend to increase its already-hulking stature in the sector. But instead, and despite a torrent of bolt-on acquisitions, Cisco is barely keeping up with the Joneses.

And I blame that fateful decision to step on the callused toes of some of Cisco's strongest partners. IBM and HP have been instrumental to Cisco's sales and distribution efforts, but now that the companies are head-to-head competitors, you can't really expect the other big boys to put their back into that effort anymore. They are doing the opposite, in fact.  In a parallel universe where Homer never sat on a fish and Cisco stayed out of the server market, Cisco's sales would have Chambers reaching for his thesaurus to describe it.

Oh, well. Like Homer can't un-sit on his fish, Chambers can't undo the server move now. A year into the Unified Computing server business, that project hardly rated a mention in earnings release nor conference call. The negative impact is already clear as day. I wish Cisco all luck in turning that equation around, but the company has lost one of its finest competitive advantages in return for ... nothing much.

Do you agree with Anders' grim assessment of Cisco's server strategy? Maybe you think it's the best idea since sliced beets? Voice your opinion in the comments below, either way.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.