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On the comeback trail

Mahmoud El Ali3Com's rallying cry will be lower total cost of ownership for IT shops reeling from high vendor premiums during the current economic downturn. The company says the recession presents a ripe opportunity for a “new ” entrant to disrupt the switching status quo in the data centre.

But 3Com isn't new. Some users may remember bitterly back to 2000, when the company alienated its largest enterprise customers by abruptly killing its CoreBuilder switch and encouraging customers to migrate to Extreme Networks. 3Com then attempted a re-entry into the large enterprise switching arena through a joint venture with China's Huawei in 2003.

That venture was successful in China but barely made a dent elsewhere. A few years later, 3Com bought out Huawei's stake in the joint venture and in 2008, after a failed attempt to be acquired by Bain Capital and Huawei, 3Com established its leadership and operational focus on China when it named Robert Mao as CEO, replacing Edgar Masri.

Now 3Com is attempting a third engagement with data centres and large enterprises after a successful run in China, where it claims market share leadership in enterprise switches and routers. 3Com is choosing now to tap the global market because the economic recession is sowing the seeds of disruptive change and prompting users to consider alternatives to their incumbent vendors, says 3Com’s regional GM Mahmoud El Ali.

“Enterprise is clearly our focus now. Yes, we have gone through some ups and downs in the last four years but at the same time, we did some intensive R&D. Now, we have a credible story to tell. We have in our portfolio products that are of real value to customers. We are the only company to offer zero downtime in a core solution now,” he says.

“We're proven in China with large-scale networks and demanding customers,” Ali says. “This is a unique opportunity that 3Com hasn't seen in the past.”

3Com's banking on past practices to reestablish itself with large enterprises globally: undercutting the competition on price and total cost of ownership. Even though 3Com did not reveal pricing on its S 12500 data centre switch, the company is claiming price/performance advantages over Cisco's Nexus 7000 – twofold in performance and density – and half the power consumption.

The S12500 can support up to 512 10G Ethernet ports and 864 Gigabit Ethernet ports in a full rack configuration, 3Com says. It features 2.2 billion pps forwarding and 6.6Tbps switching capacity in an architecture designed for future 40/100G Ethernet, FibreChannel over Ethernet and data centre-optimized Ethernet applications.

3Com has also rolled out a fixed configuration switch that can be virtually stacked to achieve performance comparable to a modular switch. The S5800G/XG switch is designed for top-of-rack data centre, medium-sized enterprise core and high density access applications. It supports 24 10G Ethernet ports or up to 192 in a virtual stack; and 80 Gigabit Ethernet ports or 640 per stack.

The S5800 is also field upgradeable to PoE and PoE+, 3Com says. 3Com will also roll out a management application, called the H3C Intelligent Management Center (IMC), for centralized FCAPS management of its switches and routers, and third-party devices.

“The economic recession has been a blessing in disguise for us. Customers are unwilling to pay a price premium for Cisco, and that has opened doors for us in the enterprise market. In fact, cost effectiveness comes only second in our story. What has come to the fore is product superiority, which makes us a strong alternative to Cisco, “ says Ali.

At the foundation of 3Com’s enterprise networking strategy is a mandate to deliver unmatched price/performance and a new approach to customer relationships. Three tenets drive this strategy:

1.Design solutions that lower TCO: The H3C portfolio of solutions has been designed and built over the last four years, incorporating the latest in merchant silicon and energy efficiency, as well as a common management platform;

2.Architect future-proof products: The H3C solutions are based on open standards and leverage common hardware and software systems to help solve today’s problems while allowing the flexibility to adapt to future technology enhancements; and

3.Deliver a new level of customer intimacy: 3Com has made responsiveness and flexibility a priority, underscored by the stability of a $1.3 billion, profitable, global organization. Elite partners authorized to sell H3C products will also help elevate the level of customer service and support.

Though currently, more than half of 3Com’s revenues come from the Asia-Pacific region, Ali says the Middle East is key focus area for the company. “3Com is committed to the region, and we have enormous expansion plans. We are investing in more resources, both sales and pre-sales, expand our partner bases and build labs where users can come and test solutions before they deploy it. “

Though product quality has never been a problem for 3Com, whether the company gets third time lucky would depend on if they can secure a large systems integrator partner and get some really good lighthouse wins outside of china, especially in the emerging markets like the Middle East. If Ali’s plans are anything to go by, the company sure seems to be on the right track at the moment.

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