3Com takes another shot at enterprise switching

3Com Corp. this week will announce plans to once again attempt to play in the large enterprise/data center switching arena globally after exiting the market — twice.

3Com’s rallying cry will be lower total cost of ownership for IT shops reeling from high vendor premiums during the current economic downturn. The company says the recession presents a ripe opportunity for a “new” entrant to disrupt the switching status quo in the data center.

But Marlborough, Mass.-based 3Com isn’t new. Some users may remember bitterly back to 2000, when the company alienated its largest enterprise customers by abruptly killing its CoreBuilder switch and encouraging customers to migrate to Extreme Networks. 3Com then attempted a re-entry into the large enterprise switching arena through a joint venture with China’s Huawei in 2003.

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That venture was successful in China but barely made a dent in the US.

A few years later, 3Com bought out Huawei’s stake in the joint venture and in 2008, after a failed attempt to be acquired by Bain Capital and Huawei, 3Com established its leadership and operational focus on China when it named Robert Mao as CEO, replacing Edgar Masri.

Now 3Com is attempting a third engagement with U.S. and other international data centers and large enterprises after a successful run in China, where it claims market share leadership in enterprise switches and routers. 3Com is choosing now to tap the global market because the economic recession is sowing the seeds of disruptive change and prompting users to consider alternatives to their incumbent vendors, says President and COO Ron Sege.

“We’re proven in China with large-scale networks and demanding customers,” Sege says. “This is a unique opportunity that 3Com hasn’t seen in the past.”

3Com’s banking on past practices to reestablish itself with large enterprises globally: undercutting the competition on price and total cost of ownership. Even though 3Com did not reveal pricing on its S 12500 data center switch, the company is claiming price/performance advantages over Cisco’s Nexus 7000 – twofold in performance and density – and half the power consumption.

The S12500 can support up to 512 10G Ethernet ports and 864 Gigabit Ethernet ports in a full rack configuration, 3Com says. It features 2.2 billion pps forwarding and 6.6Tbps switching capacity in an architecture designed for future 40/100G Ethernet, FibreChannel over Ethernet and data center-optimized Ethernet applications.

3Com is also rolling out a fixed configuration switch that can be virtually stacked to achieve performance comparable to a modular switch. The S5800G/XG switch is designed for top-of-rack data center, medium-sized enterprise core and high density access applications. It supports 24 10G Ethernet ports or up to 192 in a virtual stack; and 80 Gigabit Ethernet ports or 640 per stack.

The S5800 is also field upgradeable to PoE and PoE+, 3Com says. 3Com will also roll out a management application, called the H3C Intelligent Management Center (IMC), for centralized FCAPS management of its switches and routers, and third-party devices.

But will any of this make a difference to non-Chinese large enterprise and data center users that 3Com twice backed away from?

“Their credibility is challenged,” says analyst Zeus Kerravala of the Yankee Group. “I think though that the current economy cuts them a break. The Cisco premium is becoming quite [burdensome]. The S12500 is a good switch and product quality has never been a problem for 3Com. But can they secure a large systems integrator partner and how long will it take them to get some really good lighthouse wins [outside of China]?”

The S12500 and S5800 switches will ship in July. The S5800 is priced from $6,500 to $18,000. The IMC software will be available in June. Pricing was not disclosed.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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