New 3Com CEO Pledges Commitment To Channel, Challenges Cisco With Unified Switch

In his first address to channel partners since taking the helm of the networking company in mid-August, 3Com President and CEO Edgar Masri told partners that the company is committed to selling through solution providers.

"I want to regain the position we had where we relied on you to be successful," Masri told conference attendees. The event drew about 90 North American solution providers.

Masri highlighted four vertical markets that 3Com plans to focus on -- education, government, healthcare and retail -- noting that they are already areas of strength for the Marlborough, Mass.-based vendor. The company at the conference unveiled 3Com Solution Playbooks, a set of guides for channel partners that aim to help them build solutions for specific market segments.

While 3Com won't be targeting those verticals exclusively, it will be expending resources there, he said.

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Several partners attending the conference said 3Com's plans to focus on those verticals align with their own strategies.

"Last year they weren't talking about HIPAA or E-rate. They're absolutely going in the right direction," said Mark Mills, principal at Communication Concepts, a solution provider and 3Com Gold partner in Sunrise, Fla.

Masri also promised to provide more "air cover" for partners in the form of marketing programs and market development funds. "I don't want you to do business with us just because we give you a better discount. I want you to do business with us because you know you can win with us," he said. 3Com will also be building up back-end channel infrastructure, he said.

3Com also said at the conference that it has named Nick Tidd as vice president of global channels, a new worldwide channel position that became effective Sept. 1. Tidd's former position as vice president of North American channels has been filled by Steve Chapell, who led the channel program at TippingPoint, 3Com's security division.

"We needed [a global channel position] now because the channel now is an absolutely integral part of our success going forward," Tidd said. In his new role, Tidd said he will help bring consistency to the vendor's worldwide partner strategy.

3Com Monday also launched a new product it is calling a unified switch, which provides integrated wired and wireless networking with Power over Ethernet (PoE).

The Unified Gigabit Wireless PoE Switch 24 combines several capabilities, including Layer 2 Gigabit Ethernet managed switching, WLAN management, 802.3af PoE support on all 24 ports, 802.1x security, support for up to 24 access points and rogue access point detection.

The switch is targeted at SMB customers with 20 to 250 users and is scheduled for general availability in one month for $2,750. It supports two 3Com access point models, the 3Com Wireless 7760 11a/b/g PoE Access Point, available now for $249, and the 3Com Wireless 8760 Dual-Radio 11a/b/g PoE Access Point, available now for $399.

3Com rival Cisco System, San Jose, Calif., has already taken a similar path by integrating multiple features on a networking device, but its box of choice is a router. Cisco's Integrated Services Router family, a line of branch office access routers, includes optional security, VoIP and wireless capabilities. Cisco said in May that it had sold over 1 million ISRs since launching the line in September 2004.

Masri said the new 3Com box represents a new product category and a fresh approach to garnering share in the networking market. "We're never going to win by increasing share in Gigabit Ethernet [switching]; that's an old story. We're going to create a new category for unified switching," he said.