3Com S7906E

3Com's high-end switch: A fast, green alternative to Cisco

3Com says it has an alternative for network managers considering high-end switches from Cisco and others.

Our exclusive Clear Choice test of its new core switch backs up 3Com's claim. This chassis-based, 288-port device delivered line-rate throughput in all performance tests, supported more Open Shortest Path First (OSPF) routing sessions than we've ever set up and consumed remarkably little power all the while.

While the device we tested doesn't have all the features of some competitors (for example, the switch doesn't yet support hitless upgrades), its strong performance and low power consumption make it a viable option for large and midsized organisations in the market for core and aggregation switches.

One switch, two names

3Com sells the system we tested under two names: the 3Com S7906E and the H3C S7506E. That's kind of a mouthful, so we'll refer to this system as the "3Com/H3C switch'' going forward. (3Com became sole owner of H3C after buying Huawei's share of the former joint venture a couple of years ago. See story.)

3Com supplied a chassis with six line cards, each with 48 gigabit Ethernet ports that use SFP transceivers for copper or fiber. The company says it has less costly gigabit Ethernet cards with integrated copper transceivers now under development. It already ships larger (10-slot) and smaller (two- and three-slot) versions of the same switch. In 3Com's terminology, the slot counts refer to the number available for line cards; each chassis actually has two additional slots for redundant management modules.

The chassis 3Com supplied scales up to 288 gigabit Ethernet ports, but only 16 10G Ethernet ports. While the gigabit port count is relatively high, the 10G Ethernet number is not. Competing Cisco Catalyst 6509 and Nexus 7010 switches house up to 130 and 256 10G-Ethernet cards, respectively, in similar configurations with dual fabric cards.

3Com's competitors may claim the lower 10G Ethernet port density "proves" this is a smaller switch than some of its rivals, but results from our unicast performance tests don't support that conclusion: A 3Com/H3C chassis fully loaded with gigabit ports moved mid- and large-sized frames only slightly slower than a Cisco Catalyst 6509 fully loaded with 10G Ethernet ports, and went faster than the Cisco box with short frames. While there are some apples-and-oranges problems with this comparison (the tests were done at different times, for starters), it's not automatically the case that lower density means lower performance.

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