3Com woos the enterprise

3Com Canada Inc. continued its drive to re-establish itself as an enterprise network infrastructure player last month by launching a series of wide area network (WAN) routers targeted at enterprise branch and central offices.

Although 3Com could have some credibility problems with customers, because of the firm’s abandonment of the enterprise in 2000, the company might win over users looking for an alternative to Cisco Systems Inc., according to an industry observer.

“Having another player in the game can’t be a bad thing for enterprise customers,” said Dan McLean, an analyst with IDC Canada in Toronto. “It gives them more leverage than they’d have with just one vendor.”

3Com, which left the enterprise market when it discontinued its PathBuilder and CoreBuilder switch lines, began its new foray into the enterprise this June when it introduced its chassis-based Switch 7700 enterprise backbone box. It is designed as a migration path for CoreBuilder customers, while the new WAN router, the 3Com Router 5000 series, is geared towards PathBuilder users.

Enterprise customers will continue to look to 3Com, because the company can provide an end-to-end product portfolio and is on a sounder financial footing than it was in 2000, said Nick Tidd, managing director of 3Com Canada.

“We now have an excellent balance sheet that allows us to invest in research and development,” he said. “We are a company with no debt and a cash position of US$1.4 billion.”

The new WAN boxes offer T-1, frame relay and ISDN interfaces. The routers boast firewall capabilities, as well as IPSec virtual private networks.

The 5000 series can also support delay-sensitive applications, such as voice over IP, through software features, which allow network managers to prioritize network traffic.

The 5000 line includes: the 5640, an eight-slot box built to consolidate connections at a central site; the four-slot 5640; the 5231, a three-slot router for regional offices; and the 5009, a single WAN interface box designed for small branch offices.

Like the Switch 7700, the 5000 series is resold by 3Com from the company’s Asian partner, Huawei Technologies Inc.

Cisco sued Huawei earlier this year, citing intellectual property and copyright violations. In June a U.S. federal court ordered Huawei to remove some code in the company’s products that was similar to the code in Cisco’s IOS software. The 5000 series doesn’t violate any intellectual rights, according to 3Com.

The Huawei partnership brings 3Com engineering and manufacturing capabilities greater than what 3Com was able to muster on its own, Tidd said.

3Com hopes to attract enterprise customers by emphasizing the price/performance of the 5000 series line. All of the routers will ship with the maximum memory possible, Tidd noted.

“Some vendors ship product that requires an upgrade, or ships with the bare minimum of memory,” he said. “With the full memory, as your traffic patterns change, or your user community increases in size, you’re not looking at doing forklift upgrades.”

Some Cisco users have complained about the pricing of their Cisco equipment, so 3Com, with its legacy of lower-priced products, could find an attentive audience, IDC Canada’s McLean noted.

“They’re a brand name, so they could help enterprises put some price pressure on Cisco,” he said.

The 5000 boxes cost between 30 per cent and 50 per cent less than comparable Cisco gear, according to 3Com. The routers start at US$1,400 for the 5009, US$2,500 for the 5231, US$4,000 for the 5640 and US$6,500 for the 5680.

The 3Com Network Administrator, which companies can use to manage the routers, Switch 7700s and 3Com SuperStack equipment, starts at US$5,000 and begins shipping in November. The software also contains hooks for HP OpenView users.