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3Com reworks hardware to end Web wait

Following the lead of several networking start-ups, 3Com plans to add new features to its equipment that helps e-commerce sites run faster and more reliably.

Following the lead of several networking start-ups, 3Com will soon add new features to its equipment that helps e-commerce sites run faster and more reliably.

3Com today licensed technology from F5 Networks that manages Internet data traffic. F5 Networks makes a hardware product that helps distribute data evenly among servers, so no one machine is overloaded. Such a system helps cut down network congestion, according to the companies.

3Com's endorsement of F5 Networks' technology comes in the middle of a mania on Wall Street for hardware or software that works to eliminate data bottlenecks on the Web. F5 stock has soared in the past month, while companies like Akamai Technologies continue to enjoy strong gains following a successful IPO.

The deal also represents some of the first steps in 3Com's latest strategy to focus its business on back-end networks. After flirting with Palm as a centerpiece for its networking strategy, 3Com is now looking to reposition its back-end technology, including its switches and routers, for the Internet.

3Com immediately plans to resell the technology with its CoreBuilder 9000 family of switches. Next year, however, 3Com will incorporate the technology directly into the switches, a 3Com spokesman said.

Small firms, such as F5 Networks, Alteon WebSystems and ArrowPoint Communications, have helped create a new market for Web switching devices. The firms, overshadowed by many larger networking equipment firms and wanting to establish their own place in the networking world, latched on to the technology.

Yet as demand for Web switches increases, established firms such as Cabletron Systems, Nortel Networks and 3Com are looking to offer their own switching technology to e-commerce Web sites, telecommunications carriers and Internet service providers.

The market for Web switching devices is expected to grow from $260 million this year to $828 million by 2002, according to a study by the Internet Research Group.

3Com said today's announcement is part of the company's Internet initiative announced two weeks ago.

With F5's technology, 3Com's CoreBuilder 9000 high-end switch can help monitor and balance Web traffic in a local and wide area network, the company said. The new device is geared toward large corporations, but can also be used by ISPs, Web-hosting providers and portal Web sites.

Also, Foundry Networks today said it began shipping an updated version of its Web switch. The company said its new ServerIronXL, with a 400-MHz processor, is nearly twice the speed of the previous product. Pricing starts at $7,995.