3Com backpedals out of SAN arena

3Com backpedals out of SAN arena

STK to pursue cross-certification programs with other vendors

By Heidi Biggar

After reporting lower-than-expected third-quarter earnings, 3Com late last month blind-sided the storage industry by pulling the plug on its five-month-old storage area network-ing (SAN) business. The decision came just two weeks after the com-pany announced plans to partner with StorageTek to jointly develop and cross-certify SAN products--a move which industry analysts believed solidified 3Com`s commitment to the storage arena.

"3Com is making a difficult but good business decision. And now is the right time to take these actions, before more money is invested and before product reaches our customers," says Bruce Claflin, 3Com president and CEO. Claflin was not available for further comment, leaving analysts and industry players to speculate about the company`s abrupt decision.

In addition to cutting its 44-person storage networking group, 3Com also reportedly trimmed its modem business. Though 3Com would not comment on the price tag of its five-month storage venture, it is estimated to have cost the company some $5 million in salaries and overhead alone.

Though significant to the storage industry, 3Com`s exit is not indicative of any underlying weakness in the overall SAN market. According to International Data Corp., a research

firm in Framingham, MA, the SAN market is expected to top $11 billion in 2002 (see InfoStor, February 1999, p.1).

"By exiting the market, 3Com is not saying that SANs are not important, they`re saying SANs don`t fit the company`s strategy very well," says John McArthur, program director of storage systems research at IDC. "3Com`s success is in the low-end volume business and the SAN market is not a volume business from a units perspective." McArthur believes SANs are much more in line with the selling models of higher-end networking suppliers such as Cisco.

Perhaps the largest void to fill, however, will be in interoperability testing. However, McArthur believes 3Com`s loss could be StorageTek`s gain. StorageTek now has the opportunity to pick up some of these pieces at its own VISTA Interoperability Lab.

In terms of its products, a 3Com spokesperson says the company has not reached any conclusions. The same thinking that went into the company`s decision to refocus its business on its core networking strength will reportedly help determine the fate of its line of host bus adapters. As for switches being co-developed with vendors such as Gadzoox, 3Com says it is looking at OEM possibilities.

StorageTek moves on

"Yes, there are alliances, but a lot of the alliances are fluid--there`s no exclusivity," said David Hill, an analyst with Boston-based Aberdeen Group, just days before 3Com exited the SAN arena.

During the same time frame, StorageTek also announced a strategic alliance with Legato Systems and Crossroads to deliver SAN-based serverless backup and to drive standards for intelligent data movement in SANs.

So, while 3Com`s decision is disappointing, says Joan Wrabetz, vice president and general manager of StorageTek`s SAN operations business group: "StorageTek`s strategy for open storage networking is not limited to a single vendor." StorageTek is testing host-bus adapters (HBAs) from other networking companies, StorageTek officials say. 3Com`s HBA was to have been integrated into StorageTek`s just-announced "LANfree Backup" SAN application suite, or SANaps. When InfoStor went to press, StorageTek said there was still the possibility that the two companies would work co-operatively on integrating the adapter into the suite.

Other components of the SANaps suite include a Sun Solaris server, StorageNet access hub, Timberwolf tape library, and REELbackup and REELrobot software from SCH Technologies. All were to have been cross-certified by StorageTek`s VISTA Interoperability Lab and 3Com`s StorageConnect Compatibility Lab.

Wrabetz says StorageTek will pursue cross-certification programs with other open-standards vendors, as well as do its own compatibility testing at its VISTA labs.

LANfree Backup relieves backup traffic from the LAN by allocating tape drives to multiple servers or workstation and multiple drives to one backup job or one server to shorten the backup window.

This article was originally published on April 01, 1999