3Com enterprise customers: Between a rock and a hard place

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It sounded like a good idea at the time. 3Com came in with a lower priced bid and promised you that those key missing modules for the CoreBuilder would be available soon. The CIO asked if you had considered Cisco, but CIOs always bring up Cisco, and you were leery of getting trapped so deeply in IOS that you would never be able to get out. Then, after the equipment was delivered and installed, the roof fell in with 3Com's announcement that it was reorganizing and leaving the enterprise network equipment market.

Now what?

There's a rainbow after every thunderstorm, so you're probably not too surprised to see how many new friends you've suddenly made. Nortel, Alcatel (with its big signs at Networld+Interop embracing 3Com customers), Foundry, Enterasys, and Extreme all began offering huge discounts in the wake of 3Com's announcement. One vendor had the audacity to promise discounts so large that it couldn't disclose the number on its Website.

Suddenly, buying networking equipment sounds very much like buying a used car.

So, what options do you have and how should you proceed? Should you go along with 3Com's hand-off to Extreme? The salespeople who promised you that CoreBuilder would solve all your problems are now going to greet you wearing Extreme uniforms a bit less tattered than their credibility. Technical support has also moved to Extreme; Extreme would like to upgrade you to a BlackDiamond switching platform immediately, but it promises five years' worth of technical support on 3Com hardware.

If you don't foresee the need for any new equipment for the next three years and you don't need any of the functions that were promised in future CoreBuilder releases, you can sit tight and wait until you depreciate the equipment. This course of action requires a careful look at company growth plans as well as plans for new applications.

If you do plan to grow or add new applications that might require features like quality of service capabilities, load balancing, or telephony, you'll need to make the best deal you can get. Reports are that Foundry and Enterasys are being very aggressive and can be pushed to discounts of better than 60 percent. There are rumors that Extreme is offering up to 70 percent credit toward its high-end switch.

Vendors differ widely when it comes to specific features. Alcatel and Nortel, for example, have much more developed plans to deliver convergence than Enterasys or Foundry. If you liked CoreBuilder's ATM interfaces, Foundry and Extreme can't deliver. If you want really high port density to match CoreBuilder's 900 ports, Lucent comes the closest with 880 10/100 ports.

Make a list of the specific applications you'll be adding and the functions you'll need, and then plug in the various vendors' products and look for the closest match. This time you might want to add Cisco to the mix so you'll have an answer before the CIO asks the obvious question.

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