HP, 3Com Scale Up

Companies make enterprise bid with switches, software.

Hewlett-Packard Co.s procurve networking unit and 3Com Corp. are vying for the attention of enterprise network operators, as both organizations launch a range of new switches and software enhancements designed to make their offerings more useful in enterprise environments.

Both vendors—relative outsiders for many large enterprises—continued their assault on well-established enterprise players such as Cisco Systems Inc. and Nortel Networks Ltd. Both have a long way to go, however, to convince large enterprises that they are a viable alternative to those incumbents.

"3Com has a lot of work to do to get their brand name better recognized in the enterprise space. For them it isnt a product issue anymore," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group Research Inc., in Boston. "HPs had a lot of success in small and midsized businesses, but they dont have a great networking brand."

3Com, which is aiming to re-enter a sector it backed away from in the late 90s, for its part focused its latest advances on the edge of the network, on security and on centralized configuration management.

Leveraging its joint venture with Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., 3Com recently introduced the new 3Com Switch 5500 family of stackable Layer 2/3/4 switches with 12 new models that provide a range of connectivity options for both 10/100M-bps and Gigabit Ethernet links.

The Switch 5500 line of wiring closet aggregation switches uses 3Coms patented XRN (Expandable Resilient Networking) technology to allow as many as eight of the stackables to be managed as a single unit. They can also be upgraded to support POE (power over Ethernet) for IP phones or wireless access points. The switches, which can accommodate small-form pluggable modules, will later add support for IPv6 and wireless switching modules, according to 3Com officials in Marlboro, Mass.

"I can stack them and make a core out of the [Switch] 5500 instead of buying a huge chassis I dont need right now," said 3Com user Mark Berkheimer, director of IT at Harrisburg International Airport, in Middletown, Pa. "That gives me a cost-effective way of building out a core solution without a huge investment upfront."

Those efforts build 3Coms steady rollout of networking products that fill in functionality required for end-to-end networking.

"This year is the first time Ive had 3Com end to end with no Cisco equipment on my network," said Berkheimer. "Before, I had to have a Cisco router. Now I have intrusion detection, security, switches and routers. Thats fairly new in 3Com, and itll take some marketing from them to show theyre a viable alternative."

That, and giving large enterprises evidence of their viability through key customer wins, will help both 3Com and HPs ProCurve unit gain greater share, said Abner Germanow, an analyst at IDC, in Framingham, Mass. "The trick for these companies is essentially to win a couple of beachheads in marquee accounts and really publicize those."

That may be easier for both vendors to do outside the United States, where Cisco competitors tend to be a bit stronger. "Is the network manager willing to bet their job on 3Com or HP ProCurve? In the U.S., in many cases, theyre not," said Germanow.

The latest additions for 3Com include two modular, high-density edge switches in the 3Com Switch 7700 line; integrated IPS (intrusion prevention system) technology through 3Coms acquisition of Tipping Point Technologies Inc. early this year; and enhanced configuration change control in a new release of 3Coms Enterprise Management Suite, which also provides greater integration with third-party enterprise management systems.

HPs ProCurve group, for its part, also emphasized security and manageability of enterprise networks but differed in emphasizing the core of large enterprise networks and in offering free software upgrades for its switching lines.

HP recently introduced a new high-density, 10G-bit Ethernet routing switch based on Foundry Networks Inc. switches; enhanced configuration management and added integration with OpenView Network Node Manager in its ProCurve Manager Plus software; and beefed-up security in ProCurve Manager Plus, ProCurve 5300xl Series switches and ProCurve Wireless Access Point 420.

The new HP switches and software enhancements are due this summer. The new 3Com offerings will roll out between now and September.