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3Com reroutes traffic

The networking giant plans to expand its scheme to relieve network routing bottlenecks to include gear from third-party makers by next year.

Networking giant 3Com (COMS) plans to expand its scheme to relieve network routing bottlenecks by including gear from third-party makers by next year, according to the company.

The software--when used across a network layout--essentially takes data packets based on IP (Internet Protocol), the dominant communications medium for the Net, and off-loads them from overworked routing devices to local switching hardware. In doing so, the feature, called "Fast IP," takes advantage of network intelligence at the desktop and server. 3Com executives say the software offers a significant increase in network performance based on internal tests.

The company's plan has pitted it against competing concepts from the likes of giant Cisco Systems and upstart Ipsilon Networks.

Competitors and some industry pundits have previously chastised 3Com for what was viewed as a "closed" approach to IP-based networking that would only work with networking cards and gear from 3Com. The new version of what 3Com calls its Dynamic Access software package with Fast IP, due out next year, will work with networking cards from other companies such as Intel.

The company will also disclose next week that current 3Com customers can now take advantage of the Fast IP enhancements in a new version of the DynamicAccess package for the firm's networking cards only. The new version is being offered as a free upgrade for 3Com customers on the company's Web site.

David Flynn, director of marketing for 3Com's architecture and software operations group, said the company had always planned to offer a version of Fast IP for third-party equipment but was not clear in its intentions. "That's a bit of a negative perception we have to overcome," he said.

The software is intended to relieve bottlenecks sometimes associated with routing hardware, Cisco's specialty. The Fast IP technique is intended to add software routing intelligence to an internal network, or intranet, so that routing functions from the Internet into the corporate network can be minimized. Cisco's IP-based scheme is largely focused on the Internet given the company's large stake in numerous service providers and telecommunications networks.

The DynamicAccess software can also be used to prioritize types of networking traffic so that an important multimedia report can be given the bandwidth it needs before the latest news from "push" desktop software. Fast IP can communicate to the network how important the data contained in the packet is and then determine what priority it should receive.

Fast IP has won over some significant partners for 3Com. Both IBM and what is now Ascend Communications partnered with the firm early this year to promote the software for IP-based networks.

By the second quarter of next year, 3Com will also unveil a tool called the DynamicAccess Manager that will serve as an administrative interface into a Fast IP-based scheme. The tool will roll out as a "snap-in" piece of software for Microsoft's Management Console (MMC), a key piece of the company's management push for its Windows NT Server and Workstation operating system.