I don't know if you noticed, but Mr. Market really loved Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) on Wednesday.

The stock jumped as much as 8.5% on a surprisingly strong first-quarter report. Non-GAAP earnings jumped 18% year-over-year on 6% higher sales. Analysts were only expecting 7% larger earnings and 4% stronger sales.

Sure, Cisco hasn't missed a Wall Street earnings target since 2008, but this beat was a little bit extra impressive because other tech giants have been sending out negative vibes this earnings season. Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) missed Street targets and was summarily punished for its insolence. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) posted its first earnings miss since 2008 as worldwide PC sales fell through the basement floor.

I mean, even Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) posted another earnings miss, hastening the stock's 22% price drop over the last 7 weeks. Cupertino missing two Street targets in a row? That's just unpossible.

In a market environment like that, it's a minor miracle if Cisco just doesn't miss estimates too badly. But here we are, looking back at a month's worth of terrible tech tales as a backdrop to Cisco flexing its muscles.

Recipe of the secret sauce
How did Cisco pull off this magic trick? Let's have a closer look:

  • The core network switching business saw sales fall 2% year over year, mostly due to macroeconomic pressures in Europe and North America. However, other divisions more than made up for that decline.
  • Wireless equipment sales jumped 38% as Cisco is finally making its mark in the enterprise Wi-Fi market.
  • Specialized networking gear for digital video streams rose 30%. This division sets Cisco apart from the many generalists in the networking sector, and should continue to drive growth for years to come.
  • Oh, and I get to eat some delicious crow. The Unified Computing System platform is finally pulling its considerable weight by leading the data center segment to 61% higher sales. I've always been a skeptic of the whole UCS idea because these system sales drive a wedge between Cisco and many of its marketing partners. I'm still not sure the UCS project is worth three years of pain and suffering, but the payoff is coming at long last.

What's next?
Cisco CEO John Chambers acknowledged that this quarter was "very challenging," but also pointed out that strong orders in North America point to a global revival just around the corner. The U.S. enterprise sector is a proving ground for Cisco's products and strategies, which then typically expand to cover the globe. And the company did deliver on the domestic front with 9% higher enterprise revenue and 13% stronger sales from telecom service providers.

"Bottom line, we're starting to become an IT player," Chambers said at the end of this week's earnings call. He continued:

It's an important aspirational goal for us to become the No. 1 IT player. Time would tell if we could do that or not. We like what we're seeing in the market overall.

So there you have it -- Chambers wants to continue building on the UCS idea and eventually surpass market leader IBM (NYSE:IBM) as the cross-the-board provider of IT hardware and services. Aspirational goal, indeed. But if you shoot for the stars, you might at least end up in a treetop. That's way better than the roadside ditch I was expecting.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.