3Com launches e-networks strategy, new products

The whole focus on e-business and e-commerce is nothing new, as it seems that everyone is doing it, according to Dan McLean, senior analyst with IDC Canada Ltd., in Toronto. But, he said, in the case of 3Com Corp., which announced its e-Networks strategy at its annual Networks3 Conference in Chicago, the move is timely to help reassert the company as a switch maker, not a Palm maker.

The company’s western hemisphere user conference was the setting for the unveiling of the firm’s new approach, which included a variety of products to better support enterprises with their e-business applications.

“At the foundation of any e-business, there has to be…the very strongest network,” explained Eric Benhamou, 3Com’s CEO. An e-Network “is somewhat different from the networks that our industry has produced in the past.”

The differences, Benhamou said, involve three things that are the core of the strategy; applications, access and availability.

“Certainly when you start to talk about availability,

it’s about the real-time policy-based management, the continuous IP dial tone. And when we talk about the applications space, it really migrates into creating applications that are converged apps,” explained Nick Tidd, vice-president of marketing, 3Com Canada. “And when you move to converged applications and you have a single wire, and do not have a structured policy-based offering, you’re not going to be able to deliver on the promise of the access, and obviously the availability.”

3Com also took the opportunity to announce its partnership with Fort Lee, N.J.-based IPHighway, to enable the delivery of policy-based management tools.

I think that’s a key piece to any aspect of management — to create something that is reasonably easy to implement and certainly even easier to operate,” said IDC’s McLean. It’s still too soon to say whether or not this puts the company ahead in the game, he added, because “we haven’t really seen any tools, and we’re not going to see any tools for a little while yet.”

The first of two new policy management toolsresulting from the IPHighway agreement is geared at prioritizing WAN traffic, while the second will focus on enterprise LANs.

“What we have planned with IPHighway is to offer a whole suite of solutions, primarily in the enterprise and carrier space, that will be delivered in the second half of next year which will provide for some WAN connections,” explained Tidd.

Policy-based management is still in its infancy stage, according to McLean.

“There’s not a lot of adoption of it right now other than among the largest of the enterprise-type businesses,” he said.

But 3Com believes policy-based management will benefit users.

“It’s going to make the network more streamlined and more user-centric,” said Tidd. “It’s going to be able to anticipate the movement of traffic and eventually lead to folks accepting converged networking in that voice and data and video traffic are travelling on the same pipe.”

Other announcements at the conference included a three-phase plan to integrate gigabit Ethernet over copper.

The first phase, which has already begun, includes a cabling validation service. Then the new SuperStack II Gigabit Ethernet Switch will be introduced, with six 1000BASE-T copper ports and two fibre ports. Network interface cards are also scheduled to be available at this time. Finally, during the second half of 2000, customers will see 1000BASE-T modules for the CoreBuilder platform.

3Com is one of few companies to take advantage of the recently ratified gigabit Ethernet over copper standard, according to McLean.

“It’s important to be in the game,” he said, adding that while 3Com is not the first, “it’s an important technological innovation, and the fact that I think 3Com is spelling out something of a road map for future products is important.”

3Com also announced enhancements to its CoreBuilder 9000 switch line, which will all be available in December. A new gigabit Ethernet multilayer switch module will be released in line with 3Com’s “application” portion of the strategy. The switch, with four gigabit Ethernet ports, delivers IPX and IP routing and switching at eight million packets per second. Priced at US$19,995, it can be used throughout the CoreBuilder 9000 platform.

Also introduced — the eight-slot chassis CoreBuilder 9000 with gigabit Ethernet and multilayer switching, priced at US$6,995; a new 48 volt DC power supply; updated software; a six-port FDDI multilayer switch module and modules for Layer 2 switching.

While most vendors seem to be taking a look at things from a business perspective, McLean thinks 3Com is taking a unique approach by addressing connectivity.

“The whole idea of things like doing commerce on the Web and moving to unified infrastructures or multi-service IP infrastructures is really going to be driven from the user side if not the consumer side,” he said. “It’s going to be driven by people who are looking to connect up all sorts of different devices and to sort of intercommunicate between all of those different things. That’s something of a unique message.”