3Com Releases Software For Connecting Switches

XRN technology allows two network switches to be managed as a single unit

Moving forward with the first phase of its switch-networking software initiative, 3Com Corp. last week began shipping tools that allow two of the company's core network switches to be managed as a single entity.

The Expandable Resilient Networking (XRN) initiative was first announced in March, effectively bringing Santa Clara, Calif.-based 3Com back into the business of providing switching technology for corporate users after a two-year absence .

3Com last week said the XRN software can be used to incrementally build a Layer 3 network backbone by linking its stackable switches - or fixed-configuration models, as 3Com calls them - into a virtual core-routing device.

The initial XRN Interconnect Kit can link two switches, said Shaun Paice, a product line manager at 3Com. By the end of next year, the software will be able to interconnect four 3Com switches, Paice said. A third version will link more than four of the devices, but no delivery timetable has been set for that release.

ViaSat Inc., a Carlsbad, Calif.-based satellite communications company, is evaluating the XRN technology along with 3Com's Switch 4060 device, which was released in June and is rated for a 56G bit/sec. switching capacity.

"Our return on investment could be much higher [than it was before] because we are going to see reduced network downtime and easier management," said Brent Barker, a networks systems security analyst at ViaSat. "If it pans out, it could be a big deal for us."

ViaSat has a 3,500-node network that's heavily dependent on 3Com gear. Barker said ViaSat will decide by February whether to extend XRN-equipped 4060 devices across the company's entire office campus. XRN could be used to link 4060s in three separate buildings, he added.

Nick Lippis, an analyst at Lippis Consulting in Hingham, Mass., said the XRN kit is unique in the LAN switching market. It should let users of 3Com's switches build more distributed core networks "without having to spend a lot more on chassis-based architectures" that are usually installed for heavy-duty applications, he said. XRN also is designed to eliminate single points of failure and provide management features such as network load balancing.

But Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston, said the real proof of XRN's success will come if and when 3Com meets its second-phase rollout schedule. Adding support for linking up to four switches would give users more flexibility than they get with the initial XRN release, Kerravala said.

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