Dell Readies New Switches; Eyes Layer 3, 10 Gig Arena

Dell Computer Corp. is broadening its networking reach with plans to roll out three new PowerConnect LAN switches by the end of July.

Dell Computer Corp. is broadening its networking reach with plans to roll out three new PowerConnect LAN switches by the end of July.

But thats not all. The Round Rock, Texas, company is also eyeing moves into Layer 3 switching—so far, it has offered only Layer 2—and into the 10 Gigabit Ethernet arena, Kim Crawford, vice president and general manager of Dell Networking, said last week at NetWorld+Interop here.

Dell entered the LAN networking space eight months ago with four switches in its PowerConnect line, each aimed at companies with 3,500 or fewer employees, Crawford said. The company added two more switches in February. By the end of July, Dell will add three more: the PowerConnect 5224, 3248 and 3048.

As for Dell making a successful move into the enterprise, analyst Zeus Kerravala of The Yankee Group, in Boston, said he is doubtful for two reasons: The enterprise wants more than intelligent features beyond Layer 2, and its more prone to purchase from top-tier networking vendors, such as Cisco Systems Inc.

"To be honest, Dell in the enterprise is a pretender, not a contender," Kerravala said. "I think they will have some power in the midmarket wiring closet area, where cost is a concern."

Dell, though, is betting strongly that the direct model on which it built its PC and server business will work with enterprise customers in networking. Crawford said Dell can leverage its relationships with thousands of enterprises to sell the networking gear and that its latest push is partly based on feedback from that base.

"The direct model is clearly going to be new and different in the networking space because we will efficiently drive specifically the products customers need and want," Crawford said.

Part of that effect, Crawford said, is more performance at lower cost. One of the three new models, the PowerConnect 5224, will include 24 Gigabit Ethernet ports at a list price of about $100 per port, below the average cost of between $300 and $500 per port, she said.

Price played a big role in Matt Queens decision to purchase about 30 PowerConnect switches in December for Standridge Color Corp., of Social Circle, Ga. The 350-person manufacturer of color coatings for plastics was standardizing on Dell for its desktops and servers when Queen also decided to add Dells Layer 2 switches after comparing them with those from Cisco, Nortel Networks Ltd., 3Com Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

"We compared features and the price, and it turned out to be the best bang for the buck for sure," Queen said. "We thought they were as good as anything we looked at and for a lot less money."

Such a price focus plays well with smaller companies, Yankee Groups Kerravala said, but is likely to have less sway in the enterprise, especially since decisions about networking purchasing and computing purchasing are usually handled by different groups.

"The majority of infrastructure sold to enterprises is from Cisco, and Cisco certainly doesnt compete on price," Kerravala said.

Dells next targets are likely to be Layer 3 switches and 10 Gigabit Ethernet, Crawford said. She declined to offer specific timelines but said the acceptance of standards by enterprises in those areas is reaching a turning point.