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3Com hopes to win enterprise networking customers with global H3C push

Nearly 10 years after it abandoned the enterprise networking market, 3Com is trying to shake off its SMB reputation. It has announced plans to launch its successful Chinese-centric H3C brand globally as its new enterprise networking brand.

At Interop next week, 3Com will try once again to regain its footing in the enterprise networking market by launching its Chinese-centric H3C brand globally.

H3C, a wholly owned subsidiary of 3Com, was formed five years ago as a joint venture with Chinese telecom vendor Huawei Technologies. Over the last five years, H3C has built up a broad enterprise networking portfolio in China, growing to $609 million in annual revenue.

Despite 3Com's early hopes for the brand's international potential, H3C has found little success outside of China. However, it has done extremely well within China, capturing 35% of the enterprise networking market in that country. 3Com bought out Huawei's share in H3C in 2007.

Now, 3Com plans to re-launch H3C's products globally as the official 3Com enterprise networking brand.

"We're coming out as one company with three brands," said Saar Gillai, senior vice president of worldwide products and solutions at 3Com. "H3C will be the large enterprise brand. 3Com will be the SMB brand, and TippingPoint will be our best-of-breed security brand."

3Com's messy history in enterprise networking

3Com has struggled to regain its footing in enterprise networking since it abruptly abandoned the market in 2000. The move was part of a restructuring plan in which 3Com chose to focus on consumer, SOHO and SMB networking products. It canceled most of its enterprise LAN product lines and referred most of its existing customers to Extreme Networks.

Zeus Kerravala, senior vice president at Yankee Group, said that introducing H3C as the company's enterprise brand could help the company shake off some of the negative connotations associated with the 3Com brand. "[3Com was a] major enterprise networking vendor in the late 1990s," Kerravala said. "And then, for some reason, at the end of the '90s they made the decision to get out of the enterprise market. It was not so much that they decided to get out. It's the way they did it. They canceled a bunch of products, and they gave their customers very little notice that they were doing that. They left some customers feeling like they were left holding the bag. And I've heard some enterprise customers say that they would never buy another 3Com product."

Today, the 3Com brand is better known for being a technology vendor for smaller companies. CIOs at large enterprises don't really think of it as a supplier of enterprise networking gear.

"[3Com] did things like buy Palm and U.S. Robotics, and they really became a SOHO vendor," Kerravala said. "Then you wound up seeing 3Com products all over Best Buy and CompUSA. There is not a CIO alive from a large company who would buy from an infrastructure vendor whose stuff you can buy at Best Buy. It really does show how hard it is to serve multiple markets with a single brand. Very few companies have been able to sell into the consumer and the enterprise. Microsoft does it, but Cisco really struggles to sell into the consumer."

Global recession an opportunity for 3Com?

3Com believes the global recession is an ideal opportunity for the H3C brand to catch on with large enterprises by selling a broad portfolio of competitively priced products.

"A fundamental shift is happening in the networking world with the recession," Gillai said. "For the first time in 10 years, customers are asking for a second vendor. Organizations are being asked to do more with less, and there is tremendous pressure on them to find better price-performance. Over the last six months, some major investment banks have been looking at us. They're not looking across the whole network, but they're looking at the edge or other spaces and seeing where they can get a second vendor."

Gillai said 3Com has spent the last year building up marketing, sales and support capability to bring the H3C brand out of China. It has invested $12 million in building a global services organization, it has added eight call centers worldwide and increased its direct-touch sales force by 30%. It has also launched a new invitation-only H3C channel program.

3Com is already boasting some high-profile early adopters of H3C networking products, including BMW, Toyota, Samsung, ING, Fidelity Investments, NASA and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

"I think the 3Com brand still carries some goodwill," said Chris Silva, an analyst with Forrester Research. "People still think of 3Com in some way as an enterprise brand, even if it is focused on the SOHO market. I don't think that's diminished their brand association with being able to serve large enterprises and large-scale network engagements. They've been out of the game of large-scale networking, but they've not stopped doing it. They've just been doing it outside the lens of the U.S. market with H3C's China-first strategy."

This is their last and perhaps best shot. If they can't do it this time, they'll remain kind of niche-y as an SMB vendor
Zeus Kerravala
Senior Vice President, Yankee Group

Silva said that H3C has built up a solid reputation and honed its technological chops by focusing on serving the needs of enterprises in markets that are often ignored by leading networking vendors such as Cisco.

"They've focused on nontraditional markets that were underserved by other networking vendors, such as China, Asia and parts of Africa," he said. "They've been there and they've been a vendor of choice because others had served those markets as an afterthought."

New switches and a network management system

In addition to launching H3C globally, 3Com also announced three additions to the H3C portfolio:

  • The S12500 data center switch. This core chassis switch holds up to 864 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) ports or up to 512 10 GbE ports. It has 2.2 billion packets per second forwarding capacity and 6.6 teraflops per second of switching capacity. 3Com claims it consumes about 50% less power than the Nexus 7000 and has twice the performance. The S12500 will be available worldwide in July. Pricing has not yet been set.
  • The S5800 flex-chassis switch This is a modular network switch that can serve in either the core or the top-of-rack. It can have up to 24 10 GbE ports or up to 80 1 GbE ports. These modular switches can be linked together across data centers to form a virtual chassis switch, similar to the approach that Juniper takes with its EX 4200 switches. Also available in July, the 1 GbE configuration of the S5800 will start at $6,495, and the 10 GbE configuration will start at $17,995.
  • Intelligent Management Center (IMC), 3Com's new network management platform, which provides a single-pane view of a company's entire network. It supports 3Com, H3C and third-party devices, and provides topology, performance and configuration management.

3Com (and H3C) has developed its line of enterprise networking products with management in mind, Kerravala said, and IMC was built for them, rather than as an afterthought.

"[The switches] are very beefy," he said. "[3Com has] a product line, when you look at these announcements, that is as broad and robust as anyone out there, including Cisco. I think [Intelligent Management Center] is a unique differentiator. Network management hasn't been the core priority of most network equipment vendors. Even Cisco, with Cisco Works – the development of it tends to be pretty fragmented."

"A lot of vendors build management tools, but they tend to look like afterthoughts," Kerravala said. "[IMC] is a single integrated management tool to manage all products -- and from the demos they've given me, it seems pretty robust. You can do all the configuration and network management through it. Obviously, it's not meant to replace an HP OpenView, but it certainly augments it nicely."

Price-performance story could resonate with some enterprises

The cost competitiveness of the H3C line could win over some previously reluctant enterprises, Silva said.

"It's a really timely approach for them, and it's kind of helped by what HP ProCurve has done in the last year," he said. "They can sort of draft off ProCurve, which until about a year ago was seen as a poor man's Cisco. Now they're offering a very similar product with a lower price point and a lifetime warranty. I think that the publicity as a more cost-effective alternative to Cisco will help any other vendor coming in with a similar strategy, namely H3C in this case."

Kerravala also likes H3C's potential as a global brand, but he expects that some markets will adopt it more readily than others.

"It will be a challenge," he said. "I think their chances in Latin America are very good. But they're going to have to show success in other regions in order to be successful [in North America]. The North American buyer is the least likely to look for alternatives. North America is going to be a really tough market for them. What would signal success is if they were able to procure the services of a large systems integrator. So if they can get IBM Global Services or CSC or EDS, that would give them a big shot."

"This is their last and perhaps best shot [at recapturing enterprise customers]," Kerravala said. "If they can't do it this time, they'll remain kind of niche-y as an SMB vendor."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor

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