3Com jacks up network competition

3Com Corp. last month introduced a network jack that the company says not only quadruples network capacity but also sports intelligent features that allow additional ports to be added without deploying extra cable.

With four 10/100 Mbps switched ports and two pass-through ports, the NJ200 Network Jack is an improvement over the NJ100 LAN switch that has been on the market for over a year. Sporting intelligent management features, the NJ200 can be managed by SNMP-based tools and supports the 802.3af Power Over Ethernet (PoE) standard, and Cisco’s proprietary PoE standard on its Catalyst switches.

Using the management capabilities, administrators can use their network supervising software to directly activate and deactivate ports when they choose, create port-based virtual local area networks and alert IT managers about port malfunctions.

Charles Armour, CIO of Pensaworks Inc, a custom-software development company based in Milton, Fla., touted the manageability feature as a benefit of the NJ200. He said that with this switch he has the ability to section off his LAN.

Nick Tidd, managing director, 3Com Canada, added that this is the most important feature of the NJ200 because it was what “customers had been asking for first and foremost in the enterprise.”

Mounted inside a standard wall cut-out, the switch case and downlink port of the NJ200 are secured inside the wall and behind the faceplate, lessening their exposure to damage, disconnection or theft.

Tidd said 3Com’s LAN switches have been popular in environments such as school boards, where larger switches and hubs have “tended to get feet,” and that by physically mounting the device in the wall, it becomes more secure, and more difficult to steal.

Armour said this in-wall mounting feature was a key factor in Pensawork’s decision to deploy the NJ200, but for a different reason.

“We have in-wall wiring inside of drywall, so those jacks were just a godsend on expanding the number of ports we have,” he said. “We can’t drop more lines through the walls without tearing the walls out.”

Armour said Pensaworks deploys about six new devices each month, and that the NJ200 not only saved them hundreds of dollars in installing new lines, but also saved them the huge cost of tearing down walls.

Tidd said that the new NJ200 switch is ideal for “cost-conscious companies who are continuously expanding their networks.” And he said it lends itself very nicely to the Canadian market where small to medium business is continually expanding, and is the fastest growing segment of employment in Canada.

“This gives an IT manager or an owner the ability to expand,” he said. “But it does not force them to continue to add cost to the network.”

Running a 100 megabit network over Category 5 cable, Pensaworks is a custom software development firm. Armour said the only drawback to the switch is that it runs a little hot. He said the only solution he could think of would be to add more ports. “But four is still excellent,” he added.

Pensaworks is also running voice over IP (VoIP) on the NJ200, which Armour said is running well.

Zeus Kerravala, vice-president at the Boston-based Yankee Group, said 3Com’s NJ200 is an improvement over its predecessor, which was simply a port-sharing device.

“I think it’s a very good, forward-thinking product,” he said. “There’s not another vendor who has a similar product on the market today.”

Kerravala also cited security benefits to moving intelligence from the wiring closet into the wall jack, and would like to see 3Com add firewall software into the device instead of putting the burden for security on the PC.

“It’s not like you have to worry about someone tapping into your wall jack,” he said, “because it’s right in front of the person. If someone were sniffing about, it would be pretty obvious.”

The cost of the NJ200 Network Jack is US$220 for a single unit and US$4,075 for a package of 20.