Because they report quarterly results out of the regular cycle, technology giants Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO), Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) and Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL) are bellwethers.

So is NetApp Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP), one of the biggest names in the storage sector.

In good years, when they report good results and offer good forecasts, that usually means performance will be good for others like International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM), AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), the No. 1 telecommunications carrier, and Intel (Nasdaq: INTC), the No. 1 chipmaker.

Indications are trouble is ahead, if the reports from Cisco, Dell and NetApp are correct. All three reported cloudy prospects for the current quarter.

The whole world knows that earnings and revenue gains at Facebook (Nasdaq: FB), the No. 1 social network, are slowing down.

HP offered a fairly optimistic forecast. But new boss Margaret (Meg) Whitman first announced the firings of 27,000 employees as well as $3.5 billion in charges on operations plus another $1.2 billion to write down assets from Compaq Computer.

The question is whether the overall technology outlook is bad, or are we waiting for some major new moves?

One factor is the European economic crisis. Another is Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), the world's biggest software company, which will ship Windows 8 soon, which should prompt new orders,

It's too early to tell.

Still, there are some disheartening concerns. Michael Dell told investors last week: In my own interactions with larger customers, we are seeing a delay and a pause in spending activity.

Cisco CEO John T. Chambers, who spearheaded huge manpower cuts last year and began an earnings turnaround, said Cisco has great products ready but customers don't want to order them yet.

Their plans are to spend more in the second half of the year, Chambers said. However, in the next sentence they said they are waiting to see what happens in Europe and what happens in government policy.

Both executives were punished for their candor. Shares of Dell, based in Round Rock, Texas, got hammered last week, falling nearly 18 percent to as low as $12.31 and lowering the market value of the company to only $21.9 billion.

Cisco shares plunged 10 percent on May 10 and haven't recovered. The value of the San Jose, Calif.-based giant has fallen to only $86.7 billion. For the past 52 weeks, they've eked out a 1 percent gain. NetApp's value plunged to only $10.4 billion last week after CEO Tom Georgens essentially argued with investors about the pace of new orders.

The slowdown may only be linked to networking and PCs, after all, not other technology products in high demand like iPhones and iPads from Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), the world's most valuable technology company.

Apple shares, though, are down nearly 13 percent from their record high of $644 last momth.

Agilent Technologies (NYSE: A), which is essentially the original HP, a maker of instruments, reported second-quarter net income jumped 28 percent. Agilent, in Santa Clara, Calif., also predicted better-than-expected third-quarter sales.

Agilent shares have jumped 17 percent this year.

Intel, for example, previously issued a bullish second-quarter forecast, in part due to demand for new UltraBook chips slotted for HP and Dell units. Its shares are up 6 percent this year.

So the bellwether may be company specific, not just industry specific.

To be sure, the big players are targeting three areas: portability, whether with smartphones, tablets or instruments; the cloud, or Internet-based computing, and sales to the so-called BRICS countries  -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - where economic growth is faster than anywhere else.

Still, even China indicated its fast pace may be easing. Over the next few weeks, we may be able to determine if the trickle of disappointment becomes a torrent of missed hopes.