3Com challenges Cisco with security strategy

The company ups the ante against Cisco Systems in the enterprise networking market with a new Internet Protocol security strategy.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read
3Com is upping the ante against Cisco Systems in the enterprise networking market with a new Internet Protocol security strategy.

The company announced today that it will integrate security features into new and existing networking devices and IP-switching gear. The strategy closely follows that of market leader Cisco, which has also been adding security features to its Catalyst enterprise switches.

"If you're going to play in the enterprise market, it's very important to embed security functionality into the networking gear itself," said Zeus Kerravala, senior research analyst at The Yankee Group.

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The cornerstone of 3Com's new strategy is a newly released product called the Security Switch 6200, which is being resold through an agreement with Crossbeam Systems. This product, built specifically to look deep into IP packets, offers firewall and IP virtual private network (VPN) functionality, using software from Check Point Software Technologies. It also provides intrusion protection and antivirus protection, using software from Internet Security Systems.

Before the agreement with Crossbeam, which was announced last month, 3Com had sold an internally developed, stand-alone firewall product. But the company has had little success against big players such as Check Point Software, Cisco and NetScreen Technologies. It offered no product for antivirus or intrusion detection and prevention protection.

"We still offer the stand-alone firewall," said Elesh Kadakia, security marketing manager for 3Com. "But we're also partnering with best-of-breed companies to give customers a choice in the security products they use. What we are hearing from customers is that they need more security embedded in the network."

Cisco, which leads the market in enterprise switching, has also embraced integrated security. The company already offers firewalls, VPNs, and intrusion prevention and detection as stand-alone products and as service blades that slot into its Catalyst line of enterprise switches.

Even though Cisco may dominate the enterprise market, Matthew Kovar, director of security solutions and services at The Yankee Group said 3Com's technology is more advanced than Cisco's.

"Cisco is still many months away from implementing a solution that can go to the level of detail that the Crossbeam switch can go," he said. "The 6200 can process packets at layer 7 of the OSI reference model, and it offers redundancy and 'failover' protection that the Cisco switches do not."

The 6200 is just one part of the new strategy. 3Com also plans to add to wireless and wireline authentication and access control through standards such as 802.1x support for network login. It also provides support for identification of remote authentication dial-in user service servers and virtual local-area networks. These features will be added to some of 3Com's existing switches and routers.

Kadakia from 3Com could not comment on whether these security features would be added to products that are being sold as part of the company's joint venture with Chinese manufacturer Huawei Technologies. 3Com has partnered with Huawei in the United States and Asia to get back into the high-end enterprise routing and switching market. The company left this market about three years ago to focus on the small to midsize business market and the consumer market.

Analysts say the new strategy is a step in the right direction, but 3Com still has a long way to go, if it plans to displace Cisco in the enterprise market.

"From a product perspective, this is a good move for them," says Kerravala. "But their success isn't really predicated on a single product or a series of products. It's really dependent on whether they can get the North American market to accept them as a viable player. A lot of people were stuck after they exited this market before."