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A speedier switch from 3Com

3Com will unveil what it claims will be the fastest networking switch in the industry and a huge boost in its rivalry with Cisco Systems.

3Com (COMS) has been talking the talk of an enterprise-class networking vendor. Soon it will be able to walk the walk.

As reported by CNET's NEWS.COM in September, 3Com rolled out details of a switching device for the core of enterprise corporate networks today that can send data at the rate of tens of millions of packets-per-second. The new networking hardware, called the CoreBuilder 9000, represents the company's strategic bid to gain market share against corporate networking kingpins such as Cisco Systems, Bay Networks, switching specialists such as Xylan, as well as a slew of start-ups incorporating gigabit speeds in a new class of box called a "routing switch."

Clint Ramsey, 3Com's director of marketing, claims the new box will open doors for 3Com in elusive enterprise networking accounts. "We see this as a way to gain significant market share," he said. "It really allows us to play in new fields."

The box, which starts at $35,000, will ship in initial configurations next April.

Much was made of the competitive threat the recent merger of 3Com and U.S. Robotics would be to Cisco, despite large holes in the duo's enterprise networking strategy. The CoreBuilder 9000 fills one of those, according to Craig Johnson, principal analyst for Current Analysis.

"In the new world of what the core of the network is going to be, this is their first foray," Johnson said. "Their other products, while they were good in their day and served a purpose for specific applications, are certainly showing their age."

"How successful they are at winning the core [of the network business] is another question," Johnson continued. "That's going to continue to be a big question mark."

At the core of the switching device's functions is support for high-speed technologies such as ATM (asynchronous transfer mode), due next April, and Gigabit Ethernet, due in June. The box will be able to serve as a "backbone" link to 3Com's other devices, such as the recently announced CoreBuilder 3500 and the company's AccessBuilder and SuperStack lines of products.

Company officials also boast that the product will be able to send packets at rates of up to 100 million per second, depending on the type of topology being implemented on the network. Part of that performance is due to ASIC (application specific integrated circuit) chip technology recently introduced by the company.

The box can support 112 OC-12 ATM ports or 126GB Ethernet ports. Executives said the device will be able to support OC-48 rates in the future. Details concerning support for FDDI (fiber distributed data interface), wide area access, and local area support will be announced at a later date.