3Com making another enterprise comeback?

3Com recently reinforced its intention to become a major player in the enterprise market by unveiling plans to bundle products and services from itself and other partners, including VMware, in 3Com routers and switches.

While 3Com’s partnering approach sounds like it might have promise and it’s nice to have another alternative to Cisco available, the company faces an uphill battle in convincing North American enterprise customers it is a serious networking player.

In the mid-to-late 90’s, 3Com’s name was mentioned alongside Nortel’s, Cabletron’s and Cisco’s as one of the major enteprise network infrastructure providers. In 2000 though, 3Com conceded defeat in the enterprise market and discontinued its CoreBuilder LAN switch line and its PathBuilder and NetBuilder WAN products. Many enteprise customers were caught off-guard by 3Com’s sudden departure and were understandably upset.

In 2003, 3Com decided to re-enter the enterprise market by forming a joint venture with Huawei Technologies. Huawei isn’t a household name in North America, but the China-based company is a major network infrastructure provider in Asia, selling primarily to telecommunications companies.

The 3Com/Huawei joint venture sold most of its equipment in the Asian market, which is where the company’s operations are based.

Late last year 3Com exercised an option to buy out the joint venture from Huawei.

Will the buyout and the recently announced partnerships herald a renewed focus from 3Com on North American enterprise customers? It’s possible, but in the end it’s more likely 3Com will continue to concentrate on the market where it’s having the most success and that’s Asia. Enterprise customers there don’t have the bitter memories of being abandoned that former 3Com customers in North America have.

Still, it’s nice to know there’s another option available in the enterprise networking market. If nothing else it gives companies a bargaining chip when they go to negotiate their next equipment and services contracts.

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