3Com Back in Switch Race

Company claims its new enterprise Superstack Switch 4400 is 'displacing' Cisco's offerings.

Less than two years after announcing its departure from the enterprise switching business, 3Com Corp. is elbowing its way back in—and boldly jabbing the competition in the process.

The Santa Clara, Calif., company last week championed a new version of its Superstack 3 Switch 4400, which it said is "displacing" Cisco Systems Inc. switches. Officials at 3Com said the key is offering users a better value. The price for the 4400 is $3,295, and the price for the comparable Cisco 3548 XL is $4,995.

The new version of the 4400 switch comes with 48 ports, rather than 24, and Layer 4 traffic classification. Upgraded software automatically forwards designated traffic to a Web cache and offers improved backup links for rapid failover and advanced traffic prioritization capabilities.

3Com said last week that the 4400 switch is displacing Cisco switches in "significant customer accounts," but company officials refused to provide an estimate of how many and identified only one. The Exeter School District, in Exeter, Pa., is swapping out last-generation Cisco 2924 switches for 3Com 4400s in anticipation of migrating to gigabit networking next summer. The school district is maintaining Cisco gear in the labs and at the edges of the network, said Joe Way, supervisor of IT for the school district.

"In doing some comparisons, the 4400 line had a killer feature set," Way said. "It has gigabit capabilities plus data traffic prioritization. What were doing is future-proofing our network."

Traffic prioritization is key for Way, who oversees a fiber-optic network connecting six buildings and serving 5,000 users. He found that weighty, extracurricular MP3 and video downloads—by faculty as much as by students—were clogging the system. "The teachers became a problem right off the bat," he said. "Theyd go to Napster and other sites. With the 4400, you can block MP3s, you can prioritize video traffic and you can prioritize games."

Ciscos 3548 XL also offers traffic prioritization features, but Way said he prefers to work with a variety of vendors. "Cisco really wants you to push for an end-to-end solution, but theres no reality in that," Way said. "They kind of strong-arm you."

Cisco officials rejected 3Coms assertion that its switches are being displaced. "There might be one or two examples [of replacement], but what I see at 3Com is that with every customer win, they put out a press release," said Maciej Kranz, director of marketing for the desktop switching unit at Cisco, in San Jose, Calif. "I can easily give you examples of 3Com customers moving to Cisco. We can play these games, too."

Kranz readily agrees that Cisco encourages end-to-end solutions. "This is about how you deploy services and management," he said. "With a point-product approach, I dont believe [3Com] will be successful. You need to have a whole portfolio of product offerings. If you have a consistent network, its easier to deploy advanced services."

3Coms no-holds-barred crusade for Cisco market share includes a "Challenge Offer" to its channel partners, who receive cash awards rebidding Cisco LAN switching accounts. Last week, 3Com said the program has yielded nearly 100 competitive bids and 20 new deals.