Claflin Says Channel Could Help 3Com Topple Cisco

"We have no interest in being a viable alternative. Customers will never leave the incumbent supplier unless there's a superior choice, and we believe we are the superior choice," Claflin said Wednesday in a keynote address at the 3Com Live partner conference in Las Vegas. "By leveraging open, industry-standard architecture, by continuing to innovate around the areas of security and convergence, by providing tier-one vendor support, we believe that we can in fact become the alternative--not [just] a viable alternative--to Cisco through superior value."

Likening Cisco to a mid-1980s IBM, Claflin said the San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant is ripe for a fall. In that time period, IBM tried to lock up its early market lead in computers through proprietary technologies but left itself open to attack from innovative competitors using standards-based technology, he said.

"I believe that Cisco is at that same point today as IBM was in the mid-'80s, and we believe that by leveraging this next wave of intelligent networks and delivering a superior value proposition, we can become the leader in the networking industry," Claflin said.

3Com's channel partners will be a linchpin of its strategy to take on market leader Cisco, he noted. "As good as our offering might be and as compelling as the value proposition might be, it will never work unless we go at the market together, arm in arm, in the spirit of partnership," he said. "We have a commitment to do whatever it takes to build our brand and our profile in the market, to bring you qualified leads and to reduce the barrier to selling 3Com--to do whatever it takes to build your capabilities so you can go to the market with us together."

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Although formidable hurdles stand in Claflin's path to unseat Cisco, Cisco's days as the dominant networking vendor are numbered, according to Gerald Waldrop, general manager of Connected WorkPlace Solutions (CWPS), a Chantilly, Va.-based solution provider.

"I think that day is coming. I don't know if it's here today," Waldrop said. "The core problem in getting Cisco out of place is that IT staffs typically have spent tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in Cisco certifications. They're going to advocate Cisco from the inside out," Change will come only when customers' executive leadership understand the value that other vendors can bring, he added.

Several solution providers attending the conference said 3Com's products, including the Marlborough, Mass.-based company's lineup of NBX VoIP products, are easier to use, less expensive and more reliable than competitive offerings from Cisco. "With 3Com NBX, I can put it in, turn it on and walk away," said Kevin McDonald, vice president of Alvaka Networks, Huntington Beach, Calif.

McDonald lauded the NBX line for its stability and reliability, compared with Cisco's Avvid. "[Avvid] makes [Cisco partners] money by breaking," he said.