3Com jabs at competitors with new terabit switches

With a new line of terabit switches, 3Com is not only packing more performance punch in its fight for the high-end switching market, but it's also using scalability to jab at Cisco, Extreme and Force10.

In an effort to woo more enterprise customers, 3Com Corp. unveiled its 8800 family of terabit-class switches last week at the CeBit trade show in Germany.

The 8800 is developed on technology through its Shenzhen, China-based partner, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., and is the first jointly designed product to come out of the partnership.

According to Yves Steger, director of product management at Marlborough, Mass.-based 3Com, the 8800 products can scale to support over 10,000 users, have up to 24 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports and 288 gigabit wirespeed ports, and a 1.44 Tbps backplane. In addition, Steger said, the 8800 family consists of three different sizes to accommodate various quantities of enterprise users.

Steger said the 8800 line offers a level of performance beyond what was available at 3Com previously. For example, the typical performance level for the 3Com Switch 7700 is approximately 96 Gbps; the 8800 will handle 720 Gbps.

Max Flisi, a research analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp., said the 8800 is 3Com's new top-of-the-line, high-end switch, and is intended to compete with device lines such as Cisco System Inc.'s Catalyst 6500, Enterasys Networks Inc.'s X-Series, Extreme Networks Inc.'s BlackDiamond, Force10 Networks Inc.'s E-Series and Foundry Networks Inc.'s BigIron.

"With this move 3Com reaffirms its focus on the enterprise market," Flisi said. Since abandoning and subsequently returning a few years ago, the vendor has been working to restore its reputation and market position.

Joshua Johnson, senior analyst at Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Synergy Research Group, said the 8800 has the potential to do well in verticals where 3Com has an established base -- such as education, health care and government -- and where price is a top priority.

3Com Switch 8800 starter kits, including a chassis, fabric, power supply and fan, start at $26,000 for the smaller seven-slot system and range up to $36,000 for the maximum capacity 14-slot system.

Conversely, Force10's rival TeraScale E1200 has a 1.68 Tbps switching capacity and is priced at $57,500, while its TeraScale E300, a six-slot chassis with 900 Gbps switching capacity, is priced at $32,500. However, according to a Force10 spokesperson, 3com's line is less expensive because -- unlike Force10's product line -- it doesn't offer a redundant switch fabric option.

3com's 8800 supports load sharing where the central switching fabric is used to pass data from one module to the other. Steger said other vendors' products do not depend as heavily on the fabric as the 8800 does, which means the fabric investment is used only as a failure standby. The 8800 fabric investment is readily used as it has a dual purpose: redundancy standby and performance enhancement.

Johnson said the 8800 could steal market share from competitors that lack a next-generation platform and the ability to scale to numerous 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports for future use. However, Johnson added, the market will most likely change gradually.

For more information
Learn more about 3Com's enterprise-market comeback.

Read about an MDI workaround for 3Com's switches.

  
The 8800 family, said Steger, will strengthen 3Com's position in the enterprise market because in addition to load sharing support, it offers three other major benefits: future proofing, full distribution, and industry standard compliance.

Steger said the 8800's core platform is "future proof" since users can easily increase performance without having to replace the chassis.

"You can add higher performance cards inside the chassis instead of doing what the market calls a 'forklift upgrade,'" Steger said. "By the end of the year, we will be introducing new cards that will be doing 1.4 terabits."

Steger said the 8800 offers distributed processing, which means individual modules handle the processing. The advantage, Steger said, is higher performance and lower cost, since systems that require a central processing module typically have a more expensive base price.

The 8800 system, Steger said, is fully compatible with both IETF and the IEEE industry standards.

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