Showcase User Jumps 3Com Ship

CHESTER, PA. (06/30/2000) - Once a high-profile account for 3Com Corp.'s high-end LAN and WAN switches, Widener University has selected Nortel Networks Corp. to replace the gear 3Com is discontinuing as well as products the vendor continues to offer.

The university's sweeping 3Com equipment swap-out is evidence that 3Com's abrupt cancellation of its large enterprise core LAN and WAN products is having a ripple effect on gear the company is still selling.

"You can only abandon somebody to a certain point, and then they hold a grudge," says Gary Habermann, director of network operations for Widener, which also runs the Delaware County, Pennsylvania, network. "It really surprised me what 3Com did, and the way that they did it."

3Com alienated many customers in March when it announced it was dropping its CoreBuilder, NetBuilder and PathBuilder products to focus on offerings for small and midsize enterprises, consumers and service providers. 3Com did not respond last week to requests for comment.

Nortel, meanwhile, will supply Widener and Delaware County with about 30 Passport 8100 and 8600 Layer 2 and Layer 3 switches, and 400 BayStack 460 stackable workgroup switches, to form a policy-enabled, multiservice Gigabit Ethernet network. The value of the Widener portion of the contract is US$2.3 million for Nortel. The size of Delaware County's commitment was still being tallied by Nortel at press time.

Widener has 90 buildings and 10,000 switch ports; Delaware County has 300 buildings and 75,000 ports.

The upgrades are targeted for Aug. 15. The Nortel gear will replace 3Com's discontinued Core-Builder 9000, 7000 and 3500 Layer 3 and ATM switches, as well as 3Com's existing SuperStack II stackable workgroup switches.

In addition, Widener is evaluating the replacement of 3Com's NBX 100 voice-over-IP system with a comparable system from Nortel.

In Widener's upgrade, Nortel bested bids from Cisco Systems Inc., Foundry Networks Inc., Alcatel SA and Extreme Networks Inc. Nortel has been having trouble getting the 8600 out the door, but the switch began shipping last month after a nine-month delay.

"They were pretty late, but they were late because they wanted to come out the door and have it work," Habermann says.

And work it does, according to Habermann. After six weeks of testing, the Nortel switch was the only one that didn't "break," he says.

Widener evaluated the vendors and their offerings based on six "major" criteria: the ability to form a partnership; network management platforms; impact on IT staff; technical aptitude of the equipment; "health" of the vendor from financial, research and development, product breadth, size and experience perspectives; and cost.

"But we don't decide on cost," Habermann says. "We have to look at it, but cost isn't always the deciding factor."

Vendors courting abandoned 3Com shops have been offering as much as a 70% discount off the list price of their replacement gear. And educational institutions like Widener usually get their network and computing equipment at a discounted rate to begin with.

Nortel would not disclose the switch discounts it offered Widener, but an educational discount was not added on top of that, says Peter Brockman, vice president of enterprise marketing at Nortel.

Widener put the switches through 75 technical evaluations, including quality-ofservice (QoS) testing; OSPF routing scenarios; Internet Group Multicast Protocol snooping and Protocol Independent Multicast filtering; and graphical user interface-based switch configuration and management, including virtual LAN configuration.

For QoS, Widener congested its network with broadcast and multicast traffic and then attempted to hold a videoconference. The videoconference went off without a hitch when QoS was enabled, Habermann says. QoS parameters were set by application, port and policy, he says.

"From a technical side, Nortel crushed the competition," Habermann says. "When we went into this, I really figured we'd come out an Extreme shop. We came out with who everybody guessed would be the last choice."

Habermann is confident Widener selected a vendor that will be around for the long haul. Nortel's been losing market share in Layer 2 and Layer 3 switching over the past two years, according to market research firms Dell'Oro Group and Dataquest, but that doesn't worry Habermann.

"You hear a lot of the same garbage - Nortel's not going to be committed to this market - but the 8600 is being sold into the carrier space," Habermann says. "Nortel lives off the carrier. So they can't afford to [tee] off the carrier."

Nortel's Brockman concurred. "One of the other key criteria Gary was certainly interested in was, 'Is this company viable or am I going to be in another 3Com decision point six months or two years from now,'" Brockman says. "Looking forward, you're going to see a major reversal of that market share [slide]."

On the WAN, Widener has an ATM link to its Delaware campus through a 3Com PathBuilder switch. The school is replacing that with a Nortel Gigabit Ethernet switch that supports circuit emulation, Habermann says, and plans to install Nortel's OPTera optical wave division multiplexing gear for added fiber capacity.

For voice over IP, Widener will re-evaluate its NBX 100 IP telephony network once the Nortel network is installed. The school will size up Nortel's Meridian voice-over-IP offerings, among others, Habermann says.

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