Compaq plans to go head-to-head with Cisco, Bay Networks (now part of Nortel) and 3Com in the high-end networking space through a strategic partnership with Cabletron, which analysts believe may pave the way to an acquisition.
Until now, Compaq has not addressed the needs of global corporates in its network strategy, focusing only on the workgroup and departmental corner of the business. "This was at odds with Compaq's strategy for the enterprise," said Ian Whiting, European director of the network access division.
Compaq wants to provide switches and routers to network all the kit it has acquired from its long list of acquisitions, including Digital and Tandem, and is working to this end with a number of partners, including Cabletron, Intel and Extreme Networks.
The PC vendor believes it can bring more to the equation than Cisco or Bay who are only good on increasing speed and bandwidth, said Whiting.
"In the not too distant future we won't see data networking companies, it will simply be the computer companies and the telcos," he said. "Through our expertise on the server and desktop platforms we can optimise enterprise applications to run better on our products than any others."
He admitted in the short term it would also be necessary to acquire networking firms to compete in the data networking league - but refused to comment on whether the partnership might lead to an acquisition.
Ian Keene, senior analyst at the Gartner Group, said: "This is Compaq's third stab at the networking market after the Thomas Conran acquisition evaporated in the early 90s, and the remote access server lost momentum when people left the company. This is the most sensible networking strategy Compaq has come up with so far. It leverages their presence in the server market rather than having a few supplementary products around the server line."
On whether it might lead to an acquistion of Cabletron, Keene said: "Compaq has a lot to swallow with the Digital and Tandem acquisitions but it needs the technology so a strategic alliance is a good way of keeping other companies at bay."
Among the first high-end products to appear will be a Gigaswitch-router, a 10/100/1000 Layer 3/4 enterprise backbone routing switch; plus the Multiswitch 700, a Layer 2 product supporting up to 240 Fast Ethernet and Ethernet departmental users.
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