3Comis moving away from proprietary solutions by creating what it says is an open platform for its enterprise-class switches and routers.
The company announced today the creation of what it calls Open Services Networking (OSN), an approach that allows a 3Com-made Linux-based module to be installed in some of the company’s equipment so open source software developers can customize network capabilities for customers. There’s also a special partner program for independent software developers.
“We provide customers and network providers with the simplicity and lower cost of an integrated single box with the flexibility and scalability of best of breed,” said Andrew Bronson, senior director of product line management for 3Com’s enterprise router line.
Initially, the OSN Module will be targeted at service providers and system integrators, with certified 3Com VARs being brought in to the program later in the year.
Among the advantages for the channel, he said, is that by offering customized applications they can differentiate themselves from VARs selling proprietary or what he called “piecemeal solutions.”
In addition, the software can be offered by partners on a “try and buy” basis by simply downloading it to the module. If the customer wants to buy it, the application can be remotely turned on.
3Com is rolling out the approach in what it calls a “controlled release.” The first module is a US$4,495 card powered by a 1.4 Ghz Intel Pentium 4 processor with 512MB of memory and an 80G hard drive that can only be put into 3Com’s high-end 6040 and 6080 routers.
Later this summer a new family of mid-range routers will be released with modules sized for them, while in the fall some of the company’s Switch 5500 family will be enabled.
But while Bronson said 3Com wants to move the OSN concept down the product line, he emphasized it will be aimed at enterprise customers.
OSN lets channel partners create applications and services on top of routers and switches for better control of the wide array of voice, video and data applications now running across networks, he said.
3Com is launching OSN with one pre-tested open source service monitoring bundle called MTRG (multi-router traffic grabber), which does trend analysis and dashboard reporting, and promises to follow up with Nagios, a service level agreement reporting tool, NTOP, a traffic flow reporting tool and Wireshark, a packet capturing and protocol analyzer.
Future bundles will cover security, application optimization and acceleration, content delivery and network services.
Four ISVs – WMWare, Converged Access, Vericept Corp. and Q1 Labs have also joined the three-level Open Network partner program, which offers benefits to members, who can offer their products through 3Com partners.
The bottom level Open Network members get access to free software developer kits and APIs, product information and Webinars. Premium members get free technical support, solution design help, and product discounts, while Optimum members get priority testing help, access to business development funds and interactive sales opportunities. Optimum and Premium partners have to pay a US$3,800 fee.
The concept won a cautious approval from Zeus Kerravala, a senior vice-president at the Yankee Group. “For people who are locked into Cisco this probably has no impact, but for those who are looking for an alternative, it’s an interesting one.”
OSN could give organizations flexibility and some degree of “future-proofing” of their networks, the analyst said in an interview.
But, he added, 3Com’s success will depend on the depth of the developer and partner program. Like an iPod with no music, OSN with few third-party applications will have no appeal to buyers.
“The fact they have VMWare is fairly significant because that opens the door to other applications to be run virtually,” he said. “But they need to commit to building a developer community, they need to fund it and they need to do it properly.”
While 3Com has started slowly with the release of a few applications, “they can’t stay slow for too long,” he said.
Howard Hall, vice-president of Denver-based Vericept, which develops and sells compliance and content control software that can be loaded into an OSN Module believes the approach “gives organizations and enterprises and service providers the opportunity to take their business requirements head-on from an applications standpoint.”
He’s also is looking forward to letting 3Com VARs resell his firm’s products. “Being able to overlay the 3Com distribution channel, we believe the exposure that companies of all sizes to this technology will be significantly more than we could get on our own.”
3Com said the modules include the OSN Control Agent, a set of provisioning, management and security tools that enable distribution and management of the applications as well as robust failover and fault tolerance capabilities.