XRN kits offer pay-as-you-grow option

3Com Corp. has developed a new interconnect functionality that will allow customers to combine the power of multiple switches and reduce the need to add more hardware in order to grow their networks.

The company recently released its first product that incorporates 3Com’s eXpandable Resilient Networking (XRN) technology: the XRN Interconnect kit. It attaches two or more switches together, allowing them to be managed as a single entity through Version 3.0 of 3Com’s Gigabit Multilayer Switching software. The software is included with the kit as well as two XRN modules.

The user would insert the module into a slot on the back of one of the switches and run a cable from one switch to another.

The switching software has three main benefits, according to Bruce Comeau, business networks specialist, 3Com Canada, in Edmonton. One key feature is Distributed Device Management (DDM) – the integration of the XRN switches into a single fabric, allowing them to be managed as a single entity.

Distributed Resilient Routing (DRR) is the second benefit, where non-stop layer-3 switching performance is provided, and the switching performance can be scaled as more switches are added.

Finally, the third benefit is Distributed Link Aggregation (DLA), which “eliminates any single point of failure within the network while providing fully active links to scale the performance between the switches,” Comeau said.

Comeau added that there are several trends in core networking technology that drove the XRN technology: the move toward gigabit Ethernet, the drive to a primarily all-IP environment and customers wanting to run some sort of layer 2 or layer 3 switching services at the core of the network.

ViaSat Inc., a Carlsbad, Calif.-based company specializing in digital wireless communications, connected a 3Com 4050 switch with one from the firm’s 4900 family using the XRN interconnect kit. Brent Barker, network systems security analyst at ViaSat, said although his firm was initially only a beta-tester, it will continue in its deployment of 3Com’s XRN technology.

“One of the things we’re looking at is using the XRN technology to replace our core switching between our buildings and our campus,” he said. “It can do that very easily.”

The only glitch in the use of the switching software, Barker added, comes not from the software itself, but with a bug in Microsoft Corp.’s XP. “You can’t telnet from an XP machine right into it because it gives two return line character feeds at each keystroke,” he said.

Dan McLean, director of outsourcing and IT utility research for Toronto-based IDC Canada Ltd., said more and more companies are developing solutions that allow them greater flexibility in using network equipment. He believes 3Com’s XRN technology has “a fair number of features that can be incorporated into the solution.”

McLean didn’t think lack of interoperability with other vendors would be a barrier. “If you want to get the full-feature richness, the full-feature function of any vendor’s solution, it’s likely that that is only going to be realized if you use a topology that has that [vendor’s] gear.”

The switches are stackable and are about four or five units high. The differences between the 4050, 4060 and 4900 family of switches involves the types of modules on the switch. Unlike the 4900 switch family, the 4050 and 4060 have redundant fans and redundant power supplies that are hot-swappable. They cost $23,995 and $26,995 respectively.