Former 3Com enterprise users move on

“Betrayed.” “Devastated.” “Abandoned.” Those were some of the words networking systems managers used to describe how they felt when 3Com Corp. pulled the plug on its large enterprise networking business. Now, one year later, they’ve recovered from the shock, but they’re still shaking their heads.

Virgil Palmer, director of global communications and network services at Air Products and Chemicals Inc. in Allentown, Pa., said his company had a relationship with 3Com that went back five years. Then, “out of the blue, 3Com essentially said, ‘We’re abandoning our corporate customers,’ ” Palmer said.

Users’ surprise when Santa Clara, Calif.-based 3Com dropped its CoreBuilder and NetBuilder family of LAN and WAN switches last March was understandable, said Michael Speyer, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston.

After all, he said, only six months earlier at its international user conference in Chicago, 3Com had promised renewed focus on its corporate networking business by spinning off its Palm business as a separate company.

Two weeks later, IT managers like Edward Dedic, technology director at Hudsonville Public Schools in Hudsonville, Mich., got the disturbing news. Dedic had used 3Com equipment to build an enterprise network connecting 14 buildings. And he had a CoreBuilder 9000 stowed in his dealer’s warehouse that was ready for installation during his school system’s spring break.

Fortunately, Dedic hadn’t yet paid for the CoreBuilder, and he was able to return it to 3Com. He ended up migrating to products from Foundry Networks Inc. in San Jose. Dedic said Foundry quickly configured and installed a switch, enabling him to get his network up and running before the students returned.

What ultimately saved some users was that 3Com had inked an agreement with Santa Clara-based Extreme Networks Inc. to pick up its CoreBuilder business by migrating 3Com customers to Extreme’s BlackDiamond line of enterprise network switches.

Blessing in Disguise

Both Palmer and Craig Andersen, an enterprise network manager at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Forth Worth, Tex., chose to move from 3Com products to Extreme’s Gigabit Ethernet switches.

Andersen said Lockheed, which builds the F-18 military aircraft and parts of the F-22 fighter at its Fort Worth facility, used 3Com products for core switching on a 15,000-node network. And while Andersen said he viewed 3Com’s decision to kill its enterprise product line as “a real bomb” at the time, he now says it was a blessing in disguise. “Extreme offers Layer 3 switching, which helped with network segmentation issues,” Andersen said. “3Com was just getting the ability to segment.”

Palmer said he now has Extreme Gigabit Ethernet switches at the core of his network, and he’s adding routers and hubs from San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems Inc. outside of the core. And he’s learned his lesson. “I don’t want to get locked into one vendor,” Palmer said.

Ryan Rose, a network manager at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, who had installed new 3Com equipment 10 months prior to 3Com’s exit, also switched to Cisco.

“We were very disappointed and felt betrayed,” Rose said. The decision to go with Cisco stemmed from a good trade-in program and the fact that he just didn’t “feel comfortable with Extreme,” he explained.

A 3Com spokeswoman said last week that the company “still plays heavily in the enterprise market” and sells to businesses of all sizes. But she said 3Com’s focus has changed from “large, complex products to simple, modular products.”