N+I: 3Com fleshes out LAN-building plan

3Com is starting to divulge details of its alternative LAN-building plan, and intends to deliver 10 Gigabit Ethernet next year

Network giant 3Com has released the first components of what it describes as its alternative way to build local area networks (LANs). With this and its 10 Gigabit Ethernet plans, the company plans to overtake Cisco in some areas of the networking field. In an interview with ZDNet UK, the company's vice president of marketing and business strategy, Karen Oddey, said the company's "big idea" is to put together the best features of stackable and chassis switches, combining high reliability with modularity. The so-called XRN (eXpandable Resilient Networking) scheme gives stackable switches some features found in chassis switches, such as redundant hot-swappable power supplies and hot-swappable fans, and adds a "distributed fabric" -- Gigabit links between switches and the ability to share a routing table and act together as one large Layer 3 switch. "XRN is not one big box with a back-plane," said Oddey. "It is a set of individual devices. The technology allows them to think of themselves as one." Resellers like the idea, she added. IT represents are rarity in the highly commoditised LAN switch market -- an idea that can be presented as a differentiator. Users will not be able to actually do any of this until the end of 2002, however. At Networld+Interop in Las Vegas this week, 3Com delivered its Switch 4060, a 24-port Gigabit Ethernet switch that will support XRN technology, but the XRN interconnect kits -- consisting of software and cables -- will not ship till the end of the year. When it arrives, the XRN kit will also be compatible with 3Com's regular stackables, the SuperStack 3 Switch 4900 family, so they can take part in the distributed switch -- albeit without the hot-swap components. Phase one of the XRN plan will allow two switches to link together with 48 gigabits per second (gbps) connections, explained Oddey. Phase two will have four switches and faster connections. At this point, early next year 10gbps links enter the picture. The official 10gbps Ethernet standard will be published in June, and Oddey reckons that early next year is the time to launch enterprise a 10gbps backbone connection and 10gbps switches. "The price is now $60,000 to $80,000 per connection. We will launch it for the enterprise when the price is sensible." "Ultimately 10gbps will drive Gigabit to the desktop -- something we are looking to deliver in the longer term," she said. The Switch 4060 is priced at $17,995, and the XRN interconnect kit is expected to cost $9,995 and ship at the end of this year. Oddey expects 3Com to dominate in areas where users want an alternative to Cisco. "We are the clear number two in switch port shipments," said Oddey. "Users want someone else, not just Cisco."

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