3Com bolsters routing switch lineup

3Com Corp. on Wednesday brought to the core of enterprise LANs a networking model that startups have been touting for large-scale carrier backbone routing.

The XRN software that the company unveiled Wednesday at CeBIT, in Hanover, Germany, will let large enterprises link a series of stackable Gigabit Ethernet routing switches into a single virtual switch that eventually could be spread out across the available space in a data center.

A distributed virtual router will make it easier for companies to gradually increase their routing capacity and to take advantage of limited space, according to Jeff Garner, director of modular LAN at 3Com's Business Networks Co., in Marlboro, Massachusetts. Companies can start with one switch and add capacity in the form of new switches as they need it, he said.

The concept is similar to the approach taken by carrier-core router developers such as Caspian Networks Inc. and Pluris Inc., which has been touted as a quantum leap forward from current standalone router technology. Vendors and carriers say it could reduce the number of "forklift" hardware upgrades and save the cost of expensive interconnects used just to link routers in the same facility.

3Com's XRN software will work in the company's Switch 4900, 4900SX, 4924 and 4950 devices, as well as the upcoming Switch 4060, all of which are Gigabit Ethernet routing switches that aggregate traffic from workgroup switches as well as from servers. Initially, companies will be able to create a large virtual router by linking these switches via a proprietary copper interconnect that has a capacity of 4G bps and can span a maximum of 5 meters. Eventually 3Com will adopt a longer, higher capacity interconnect, probably a 10G-bps optical fiber, Garner said.

The software allows the interconnected switches to act as one. In addition, if one switch fails, the rest can take over its work as long as each workgroup switch that feeds into the set of core routers has a link to each one. Users will see no interruption and typically little degradation in performance, Garner said.

The new architecture will make it easier for smaller companies to buy just one routing switch and then expand their core capacity one box at a time, said Bill Flanagan, principal analyst at The Burton Group, in Sterling, Virginia.

Also Wednesday, 3Com introduced the Switch 4060, a Gigabit Ethernet routing switch for the enterprise core that offers resiliency features and a variety of interfaces. It comes with 12 1000Base-SX ports for Gigabit Ethernet over fiber, six 10/100/1000M bps Ethernet ports for copper cables and six GBIC (Gigabit Interface Converter) ports that can accommodate either fiber or copper connections. The Switch 4060 is available with dual hot-swappable power supplies and a detection system for fan failures and overheating, Garner said. It can also be linked to other switches using the XRN software.

Customers who prefer a modular approach also got a new option Wednesday, with the announcement of a chassis-based routing switch with a redundant switching fabric. The Switch 4007R builds on the 4007 platform with the backup fabric as well as up to three hot-swappable power supplies for resiliency. Its hot-swappable interface modules can provide as many as 216 100M-bps Ethernet ports or 54 1G-bps ports.

Next month, the company will upgrade the software on its smaller Switch 4005, also for the enterprise core. The 4005 will gain support for OSPF (Open Shortest Path First) routing and DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) as well as IP multicast routing capability, according to Garner.

Santa Clara, California-based 3Com may be emerging successfully from a lengthy reorganization, which took a large company that was struggling in several tough markets and broke it into separate businesses, Flanagan said. Its service-provider equipment business, now called CommWorks, was separated from the enterprise unit.

"It sounds like they're quite confident about what they're doing, and that's kind of a change," he said.

In some companies, talented employees tend to gravitate toward the most high-profile project, he said.

"If you divide the companies, then that kind of competition doesn't drive your best people away from the less glamorous parts of your line," such as stackable routing switches, Flanagan said.

The Switch 4007R is available immediately worldwide, priced starting at US$37,995. The Switch 4060 will ship worldwide in June, starting at $17,995. The new software for the Switch 4005 will be available worldwide starting in April. The XRN software, and upgrades to 3Com switches to use the software, will be available in the second half of this year. Pricing has not yet been set.

3Com is expected to announce details for the Australian market Thursday.

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