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Network management for all

3Com will post free agent software for two of its small office networking hardware products to let users access specific device information through Web browsers.

    Small offices with little or no management software expertise will soon be able to dissect their networking gear.

    By September, 3Com (COMS) will post free agent software for two of its small office networking hardware products to let users access specific device information with a click on a Web browser.

    The so-called SmartAgents are essentially Web servers that supply status and performance information for a particular box using the universal interface of the Web. Initially, 3Com plans to roll out the tools only for its SuperStack II PS Hub 40 and newly introduced OfficeConnect Switch 140M boxes, but soon will extend the technology throughout its low-end product families.

    "We're extending the functions across the product range," said Kathy Rocha, director of marketing for network management within 3Com's enterprise systems business unit. "This is part of an onslaught you will see going forward."

    The promise of agent technologies like these is that novice troubleshooters in far-flung offices will be able to easily pinpoint problems by simply pointing their Web browsers at particular boxes, analysts say. For networks with larger needs, the ability to "drill down" to a specific device from an enterprise-wide view of an entire network is becoming a requirement as layouts become more complicated and solutions to problems become harder to diagnose.

    Frustration is high in the administrator community. A report by market researcher Forrester Research paints a bleak picture of the current state of distributed network management. The survey of network managers in Fortune 1,000 companies found that over 60 percent would characterize their management software architecture as "fair" or "poor." The Web could should change that perception, according to the report.

    The 3Com agents will be available for free next month. In conjunction with the announcement of the management software, the company unveiled the OfficeConnect Switch 140M, a new five-port 10/100 managed switch that will have SmartAgent functionality. The new gear will ship in September for about $1,000.