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3Com's RFI Focuses On Stackable Switches

We issued a request for proposals asking enterprise-class switch vendors to design a network based on the current needs of TacDoh, the fictional company we created for this Rolling Review. The RFP also had to take into consideration TacDoh's plans to add more users and network applications in the coming years.

We initially had some reservations about 3Com's bid--the company was once an up-and-coming powerhouse, but it dropped out of the enterprise space in 2000 to focus on the small- and midsize-business market. High capacity, flexibility, reliability, and price are the primary drivers, of course, but we also want a vendor that likely will be around for the long haul.

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Now 3Com is trying to get back into the enterprise arena via a line of advanced switches that leverage R&D from its Chinese subsidiary, H3C Technologies, which it acquired from Huawei in 2007.

The financial outlook for 3Com looks reassuring: Net losses have decreased for the past three years, as net sales have gone up. The Dell'Oro Group's Ethernet Switch Report for the first quarter of 2008 indicates that 3Com isn't far behind Hewlett-Packard in Gigabit Ethernet switch ports shipped.

Moreover, 3Com's network design for our RFP was unique among respondents in that it relies solely on the use of stackable switches, rather than a chassis for the core and wiring closet switches. Modern stacking technology is certainly flexible, often allowing different switch form factors to be grouped in a single managed unit.

Improvements in performance and resilience also make the company's stacking strategy a reasonable alternative to chassis-based products. In addition, 3Com's limited warranty is similar to HP's for hardware replacement and firmware updates, although phone and e-mail support, even during business hours, requires a separate support contract.

After leaving the enterprise market in 2000, 3Com has returned with new enterprise products and expertise gained in emerging markets. 3Com claims that business is solid. The company specified stackable switches throughout its RFI response, opting for a high level of flexibility.

Large companies demand more from their network infrastructures than the smaller businesses 3Com has been focusing on; reliable and flexible products that can be easily managed and configured are required. 3Com's use of stackable switches accommodates a growing infrastructure.

3Com has experience in the enterprise, and it has a big presence in China. The selected switches have the features we asked for, and then some. Although the company has posted net losses for several years, earnings are stabilizing, and it seems to be turning around.

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