HP's projected acquisition of 3Com has reawakened a lot of old memories - and raised a lot of questions.3Com is almost a bit-part player in the industry now but there was a time when 3Com was networking - or at least the network interface cards....
HP's projected acquisition of 3Com has reawakened a lot of old memories - and raised a lot of questions.
3Com is almost a bit-part player in the industry now but there was a time when 3Com was networking - or at least the network interface cards. Co-founded by one of Ethernet's inventors, Bob Metcalfe, it blazed a trail for Ethernet technology at a time when there was a variety of competing networking technologies - hands up who remembers Token Bus?
It didn't take long for 3Com to be swamped by Cisco. Although the company retained a healthy income from its NICs, its attempts at keeping abreast of Cisco came to nothing. Cisco's dominance of the market being aided by the fact that there was another competitor, Bay Networks, trying to jostle into the space - 3Com was really on to a loser.
When it quit the enterprise switching and routing business in 2000, it became a company with little purpose. Its cash-cow, the NIC market, was disappearing around its ears and 3Com become a technology tart, flirting with a variety of technologies: DSL- it flopped, consumer electronics - it flopped; Palm- a success, so much so, it was spun off from 3Com - something that says a great deal about 3Com's strength.
In short, 3Com has been looking ripe for a takeover for some time - in fact, it nearly succumbed to a private equity bid in 2007 before it was rejected by the US government. That bid was for $2.2bn, so the company has done well to wrest an extra $500m out of HP.
The move has got the thumbs-up from 3Com co-founder Bob Metcalfe who said
that 3Com had grown up in the shadow of HP and had sought to apply HP marketing to its technology.
The question is, what does HP gain from the deal? At first glance, there's a big overlap at the campus and SME end of the market
. HP has been pushing its ProCurve range hard and I don't expect to see HP abandoning that effort.Things are more promising in the data centre: 3Com has got the s12500
as a serious competitor to Cisco's Nexus 7000.
It's not difficult to see the real main attraction: the big prize for HP is China. Thanks to its ownership of H3C
, 3Com has enormous presence there - about half the company's revenue came from China, that access to the fast-growing Chinese market but be worth plenty and it has a host of R&D staff based there who will be a highly-prized asset for future development. HP will certainly benefit from this in the long term
And, who knows, we might even see serious competition for Cisco at long last - it's been dominant for so long, but HP has the pedigree, the expertise and the deep pockets to mount a proper assault on Cisco's realm. 3Com promised much in its 30-year history but never really got close to making that challenge.Now it's HP's turn to have a go - it's going to be an interesting ride.