3Com this week plans to make a fresh run at Cisco and Juniper with an enterprise network strategy focused on embedding security, management and VOIP services from itself and others into its routers and switches.
The company will kick off its Open Services Networking (OSN) effort by introducing a module for 3Com routers capable of running applications from an array of new partners, such as VMware, as well as from open source code. 3Com says its strategy rivals Cisco’s approach for running advanced services at the network layer but allows IT executives more flexibility in choosing such services.
Observers say 3Com is taking a novel approach, but that its challenge will be to execute and sustain the effort better than its past comeback attempts.
The news marks the company’s first significant product launch since 3Com veteran Edgar Masri rejoined the company as its CEO in August. The move comes two months after 3Com bought out its joint venture with Huawei Technologies, the China-based network vendor that co-developed and built 3Com’s midsize- and large-enterprise infrastructure products.
3Com’s OSN module is a Linux-based server blade that fits into the company’s 6000 series routers. It is designed to run applications that benefit from being close to the network layer, the company says. The blade will operate inside the 6000 unit on top of the core IP routing and security layer, which runs on a proprietary operating system and hardware, as before. Administrators would control the OSN blade through a Web-based interface, independent of the control interface for the 6000 device.
3Com is partnering with four software vendors, whose code will be able to run on top of the blades:
— Vericept, which makes data analysis and security software, as well as regulatory compliance tools for the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
— Q1 Labs, which sells security-event correlation software that uses standards-based NetFlow data to identify threats and other potential problem patterns in network traffic.
— Converged Access, a maker of traffic-management software for controlling and optimizing application flows over WAN links.
— VMware, EMC’s server virtualization subsidiary, whose technology will let non-Linux applications run as a service in a virtual-machine environment on an OSN blade. In addition to these applications, 3Com says it is working on moving its own VCX IP PBX platform, as well as its TippingPoint intrusion-detection and intrusion-prevention products (IDS/IPS), to the ONS module.
3Com is releasing the module to limited service provider and channel partner customers this month, with availability — and pricing — for enterprises expected in the fourth quarter. Also later this year, 3Com says it will have an ONS module equivalent for its Switch 7000 and 8000 series Ethernet switches, similar to services blades for Cisco’s Catalyst 6500 — which include content delivery, security, wireless, management and other services.
“It’s an interesting approach for 3Com,” says Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with the Yankee Group. “Anything that can run as an embedded service on a network can run on [the OSN blade]; Their ability to virtualize services, especially with VMware, allows [a customer] to run almost anything on the router.”
Kerravala says 3Com’s partnership plan is a more open approach to adding network services to hardware than Cisco’s ISR technology scheme. On ISR products, which also use Linux-based Network Services Modules for services, only Cisco-based network service and application packages, such as CallManager IP PBX or IDS/IPS, can be added. These services are tightly coupled to the hardware in the router .
3Com also supports several open source software packages to run on the OSN modules. Supported software includes Multi-Router Traffic Grapher; Nagios, a service-level agreement reporting tool; NTOP, a traffic-analysis tool; and Wireshark, which can capture and analyze packet streams. 3Com says it plans to add more open source packages this year, such as Snort intrusion detection, and other technologies around application optimization, caching and content delivery, and authentication.
These will be available as add-on packages. Customers, 3Com partners and resellers will be able to download, configure and install them on the routers via a secure Web portal. 3Com plans to launch the program, called 3Com Open Network, this week.
While 3Com’s OSN strategy may be more open than its competitors’, Cisco’s tighter control also assures high reliability and protection from misconfiguration or security gaps.
To this end, 3Com says its ONS blade (which runs a modified version of Red Hat Linux) employs SELinux technology — security code built into the Linux kernel and developed originally by the U.S. National Security Agency. 3Com is counting on SELinux to help protect the operating system and applications running on it from being hijacked or hacked. For another layer of protection, an embedded firewall also sits on the blade’s interface to the 6000 series’ underlying routing engine, according to Bart Lenaerts, a 3Com product manager.
3Com is among several vendors fighting an uphill battle in enterprise routing against Cisco, which controls about 80 percent of worldwide sales and shipments, according to various research firms. 3Com’s 6000 series routers — which have less than 1 percent market share — compete with gear from Adtran, Alcatel, Allied Telesyn, Juniper, Enterasys, Foundry and others. 3Com re-entered the enterprise routing market in 2004 when it introduced the 6000 series. However, since the formation of its H3C joint venture, the company has failed to gain market share in enterprise routing or switching.
Because 3Com does not have the resources to acquire and integrate technologies, as do Juniper and Cisco, maintaining and expanding its partnerships with targeted network technology vendors will be key.
“3Com is gong to have to commit all of their products to this idea. And the ability to attack and keep those partners will be critical,” Kerravala says. “It’s a good product direction, but as is always the case with 3Com, execution will be key.”