Adtran looks for low-end inroads

Adtran Inc. is expanding its assault on low-end network gear for businesses, joining 3Com Corp., Enterasys Networks Inc. and others hoping to relieve Cisco Systems Inc. of some of its cost-conscious small- and midsize business customers.

The introduction of Adtran’s four NetVanta 1224 products is marking the company’s first foray into LAN switching, broadening its small-business portfolio beyond routers, firewalls and VPN gear. These devices could be attractive to customers willing to trade off buying from a vendor with a full suite of network gear for one that charges less for a smaller family of products.

The 1224 family includes a unique box, the NetVanta 1224STR, that consists of a 24-port Ethernet switch, a router with firewall and VPN support, and a T-1 DSU/CSU all housed in one appliance. By integrating these three devices in one product for US$1,600, Adtran says companies can save US$1,900, compared with buying separate Cisco switches and routers for US$3,500. Such savings can be persuasive.

Price is a key factor for the Huntsville, Ala. public schools, says Ron Potee, interim director of IT for the district. He has three Adtran combination router/switches and plans to buy one for each of the district’s 50 sites to replace aging Adtran DSU/CSUs, Cisco routers and Foundry Networks’ switches. A tight budget is forcing him away from a three-box configuration.

“We paid a pretty penny for the Foundry switches. And Cisco is good, but it’s expensive,” he says. A 24-port Foundry switch that is upgradeable to full routing can cost US$3,000, whereas a NetVanta 1224 could be as low as US$795.

In looking at continuing support costs, he says it is less expensive to buy spare Adtran 1224STRs that can be swapped in within a half hour if one fails — which happens often in lightning-prone Huntsville — than to buy a service contract. “We’re not big on recurring costs,” Potee says.

The key to savings is whether these lower-cost devices can be managed effectively from remote locations, says Michael Kennedy, principal and co-founder of Network Strategy Partners. “Management time is a big cost, and if I can manage a device from a (network operations center) I don’t have to send somebody out,” he says.

To aid in its plan to undercut Cisco, Adtran has designed a command-line interface for its management platform that is similar to Cisco’s, making it easier to learn for network IT workers who have been trained on Cisco gear. Adtran also is introducing a management graphical interface for those more comfortable with that format.

While Adtran stresses its products’ lower costs, the company also is a cut above low-end vendors such as Allied Telesyn and Netgear, in that Adtran offers management and more-comprehensive customer support, says Abner Germanow, an analyst with IDC. Adtran has a good reputation for re-engineering hardware for well-established technologies and selling them for less than companies that pioneer the technology itself, Germanow says.

He says the first offering of the 1224 features a bare-bones Layer 2 Ethernet switch. But Adtran says it is planning another 24-port NetVanta box with Gigabit Ethernet desktop support. Two of the current 1224 models support Gigabit uplinks. Other future improvements include a dual T-1 card and features such as quality of service to support VoIP and Power over Ethernet, the company says.

Future additions to the NetVanta family also will include Layer 3 switches and integrated DS-3 access routers, Adtran says.

The four new 24-port NetVanta products are the 1224 (US$795), an Ethernet switch; 1224R (about US$1,200), an Ethernet switch with WAN router; 1224ST (US$895), a switch with two Gigabit uplinks; and 1224STR (about US$1,300), a switch and WAN router with Gigabit uplinks. Models with routers include a firewall and have optional VPN support for US$695.

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