3Com prepares Linux-based IP PBX

3Com Corp. is readying a Linux-based appliance version of its VCX 7700 enterprise IP PBX in hopes that an open source version of the product will be easier to sell through its channel partners.

The new product is targeted at organizations with more than 1,000 users, and could appeal to businesses interested in non-proprietary hardware and software platforms for telephony. The move also is an attempt to jump-start sales of VCX, which have been almost non-existent since it was introduced more than a year ago.

“Customers are less interested in proprietary components and are looking to standardize more of their infrastructure” hardware and software, says Peter Brockman, a marketing director at 3Com. This trend led to the decision to move VCX to Linux- and Intel-based hardware, he adds.

The new Linux-based appliance will run on Intel-based hardware and will include a modified version of Linux with extra packages, such as e-mail and Web serving or desktop interface, stripped out to make the platform more stable and secure, 3Com says. The vendor did not say when the product would be available or what it might cost.

It has been reported that sales of VCX were lagging in 3Com’s enterprise channels because channel partners were not familiar with Sun Microsystems’ Solaris operating system, the OS with which VCX originally shipped. Channel partners preferred a Linux-based product. 3Com says that “revenue from VCX was negligible” in its first fiscal quarter, which ended last month.

VCX is based on technology from 3Com’s defunct Commworks carrier arm, and runs on a Solaris server — a common platform in the telco market. The product was introduced in April 2003 and was touted as 3Com’s answer to enterprise IP PBX boxes from Alcatel SA, Avaya Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., Nortel Networks Ltd. and Siemens AG. It is supposed to support more than 100,000 IP endpoints, such as IP phones or softphones. The platform also is based on Session Initiation Protocol, which lets it interoperate with other standards-based IP telephony hardware and software products.

3Com’s more-popular NBX IP PBX for businesses with fewer than 1,000 users runs on the H.323 protocol and a proprietary Unix-based platform.

The move to a Linux-based IP PBX platform is not unusual, says Ron Gruia, a Toronto-based analyst with Frost & Sullivan. Alcatel, Avaya and Mitel Networks Corp. over the past two years revamped their respective IP PBX platforms to run on Linux. Meanwhile, Cisco has said it plans to move its CallManager from Windows to Linux but has not specified a time frame.

3Com’s NBX IP PBX has sold well in small and mid-sized organizations. Moving VCX to a pre-packaged Linux platform with standard server hardware could give 3Com a more competitive product in the enterprise market, Gruia says. Because Linux and Unix are very similar, 3Com will have an easier time changing platforms than will Cisco, its chief Windows-based competitor, he adds.

“It’s not as intense an exercise as what Cisco has to do, to go from a Windows (operating system) to Linux,” he says.

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