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New enterprise gear may be 3Com's last chance

The vendor is releasing a plethora of switching, security and management gear for large organizations, and industry observers say the products could be 3Com's last best chance for survival in the enterprise market.

3Com Corp. Monday added new security, convergence and performance features to its enterprise networking portfolio, but some industry experts question if it's enough to keep the company afloat in the fiercely competitive enterprise market.

The highlights of the announcement, which integrate security features acquired from its TippingPoint acquisition and add switches built with its two-year-old Huawei-3Com joint venture, include:

  • The new 3Com Switch 5500 family: new Layer 2/3/4 edge switches available in 12 models with both 10/100 and Gigabit Ethernet variants.
  • The expanded 3Com Switch 7700 family: offering high density power over Ethernet service in two new modular chassis.
  • The new 3Com TippingPoint Quarantine Protection: using 3Com switches to extend security control over network endpoints without needing client software or device changes.
  • The new 3Com Enterprise Management System (EMS): providing large-scale network change control and configuration management.

    At Interop 2005, Kip McClanahan, president of 3Com's TippingPoint division, said 3Com is integrating TippingPoint's network-based Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) into its portfolio to deliver secure, converged networks to the enterprise market.

    The quarantine protection is the first in a forthcoming series of technology integrations between 3Com switches and TippingPoint's IPS. Peter Brockmann, director of product marketing at Marlborough, Mass.-based 3Com, said this feature is designed to prevent threats within the network by isolating infected endpoint devices.

    Brockmann said the 5500 edge switches and enhanced 7700 family perform "deep packet inspection," unlike switches currently on the market. He said the new equipment better analyzes traffic flow, applies that information against a set of instructions and enables the network to make decisions automatically.

    According to Steve Schuchart, analyst at Sterling Va.-based Current Analysis Inc., the new products are part of 3Com's ongoing effort to woo large organizations. He said the company abandoned the enterprise market five years ago and "it can't afford to fail in this space again."

    But Schuchart said he's optimistic about 3Com's chances because this announcement provides its first end-to-end enterprise play.

    Peter Hulleman, a senior research analyst with Framingham, Mass.-based IDC, isn't so hopeful. In fact, he said these new products may represent 3Com's final chance to reenergize its enterprise business or survive as a company.

    "3Com has a big challenge on its hands because it's been losing market share for such a long time -- you can call this its last hope," Hulleman said. "They need a turnaround, but I don't think they'll be able to do it with this alone."

    For more information

    Read our exclusive: 3Com's enterprise market comeback.

    Get expert advice on 3Com switches.

    Hulleman said Cisco Systems Inc., Nortel Networks Ltd. and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s ProCurve unit are 3Com's biggest competitors -- and they won't give up market share easily.

    But for the customer, he said, this competition is only good news. Hulleman said enterprise networking equipment buyers will get more choices for a lower price as vendors battle it out in the marketplace.

    The Switch 5500 family 10/100 models and 3Com EMS are available now, and the TippingPoint Quarantine Protection will be available in the fall.

    List prices are as follows:

  • The 10/100 model of the Switch 5500 ranges from $2,495 to $4,495 for non-PoE, and $3,795 to $6,495 for PoE versions.
  • The Gigabit models of the Switch 5500 range from $5,995 to $10,995 for non-PoE, and $7,495 to $13,495 for PoE.
  • The Switch 7700 extensions range in list price from $1,795 to $4,995 for the new chassis, new fabric or the 48-port gigabit module.
  • 3Com EMS ranges from $9,995 to $44,995, depending on the number of devices being managed.
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