3Com looks to open source networking for applications support

A radical tack could be the best way to answer user application needs, Matt Hamblen reports

3Com has unveiled a new open-source approach to its networking products centered on a Linux-based module that fits into its Router 6000 family and which also supports multi-vendor applications for security, voice over IP and other functions.

The strategy, called open service networking (OSN), will allow service providers and integrators to create customised services for business users, says Andrew Bronson, product manager for OSN routers at 3Com.

Open Services Networking Modules will run a variety of standard Linux-based applications. The initial module for the 6000 family is being released on Monday at a price of US$4,495 (NZ$6,556), Bronson says. Future modules will fit into other routers, as well as 3Com switches.

“A significant focus of our technology strategy revolves around leveraging best-of-breed technology and open-source applications to differentiate our networking solutions,” 3Com President Edgar Masri says.

A set of initial applications for the OSN include Converged Access’s data and voice optimisation technologies, Vericept’s software for visibility into and control of a network to ensure regulatory compliance, VMware’s virtualisation technology and Q1 Lab’s anomaly assessment tools. A bundle of four software monitoring programs is also included, Bronson says.

3Com also says it has created a technology partner program called 3Com Open Network to support third-party relationships with vendors and the open-source community to create applications for its OSN effort.

Christopher Cook, senior solutions engineer at systems integrator US North Networks in Massachusetts, says the new Linux-based module “definitely gives 3Com an edge” over other router vendors, and is something he plans to sell to his customers.

“If you are a customer with a corporate network, then it’s a very easy and convenient way to disperse applications. You can just grab an application that already runs on Linux without the pain of setting up servers at each location.”

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group, says the OSN concept might help 3Com in its battle with market leader Cisco Systems.

“I think if someone’s going to gain ground on Cisco, it’s not going to be done by doing what Cisco does, which is to control the applications and services that run on its platforms” of routers and switches. “Cisco wants to control end-to-end, but this is an alternative approach, to create a device that runs a bunch of the best-of-breed third party apps.”

With 3Com’s OSN, “if you can run Linux, you can run VMware; and if can run VMware, you can run almost any application,” Kerravala adds.

3Com has faced financial problems and management turnover, Kerravala notes, “so it’s fair to say that 3Com’s track record would raise some questions whether 3Com can execute this OSN, which is radical and off the wall, but the right thing to do.”

Non-traditional buyers in the open-source community and applications developers might be enticed by the concept, he says.

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