University Picks 3Com Switches Over Cisco's

Video is a major driver of network growth on the Quinnipiac campus.

Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., is using 3Com Corp.'s new H3C core and edge switches in a total network upgrade that will replace and expand upon a system based on gear from Cisco Systems Inc.

The project, valued at less than $1 million, includes the installation of several H3C data center switches and more than 100 H3C edge switches to upgrade a network used by a community of about 8,000 students, faculty members and staffers, according to IT managers at the school. 3Com launched the H3C brand in May in the U.S.

A major driver of the upgrade is the increased use of video technology by students and faculty alike, said Brian Kelly, director of information security and network operations at the school.

"Two years ago, I was trying to block use of YouTube by undergraduates," he said. "But following the [2008] presidential election, the use of that has morphed and even faculty are using it in the classroom. Video is driving bandwidth and capacity planning."

Fred Tarca, associate vice president of information services, said the university also hopes that the upgraded network will help it accommodate a planned expansion of its online curriculum, which is laden with streaming video and audio features. He added that the upgraded network should also help Quinnipiac better compete with other universities for top students. "The students want the same Internet experience as they get at home," he said.

The university's network also includes a two-way real-time videoconferencing system based on Microsoft Corp.'s Office Communications Server and wireless gear from Aruba Networks Inc.

In the latest upgrade, core H3C S9500 switches were recently installed in several school facilities and are currently being configured. The 100 H3C S5500G edge switches are now being installed in wiring closets in various buildings, a task that is slated to continue through the summer. The school plans to use a hybrid network with its current core Cisco gear operating alongside the new H3C equipment for an undetermined period of time, Tarca said.

Cost considerations

The IT managers said the university evaluated products from multiple vendors, including Cisco, before deciding to use the 3Com equipment. They noted that the selection process included plenty of scrutiny of 3Com because of its widely publicized past financial problems.

Ultimately, 3Com was chosen because officials determined that its products could help keep Quinnipiac's upgrade costs affordable, and because they favored the support package the vendor offered, Tarca said.

Tarca conceded that "there's some risk" in choosing 3Com rather than a bigger vendor. "Several of my peers were curious as to why we left the mother ship [of Cisco] ... but it all fits into a risk-reward ratio," he said.

"No matter which vendor we looked at, it came down to Cisco or non-Cisco -- and Cisco does have $30 billion in cash," Tarca added. "But we stuck with our fundamental principles of wanting a good product at the right price that is supportable, with a team and a company to back it up. Those requirements were met by 3Com."

Kelly said he asked companies that were competing for the contract to offer reasons why the university shouldn't use 3Com, but he received few responses.

He also noted that the university installed 3Com's TippingPoint intrusion-protection system about two years ago and has had no major network breaches since.

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group Research Inc., said that given Cisco's dominance of the router business, "bucking the trend is always risky." He noted that 3Com probably isn't supported by nearly as many resellers and integrators as larger companies like Cisco are. "But I'm sure the college got a good deal," he added.

Cisco products tend to cost more than competing offerings, but they're considered highly reliable and innovative, making them suitable for sophisticated networks.

Nonetheless, said Kerravala, "3Com has solid gear that is well built and well engineered."

This version of the story originally appeared in Computerworld's print edition.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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