After nearly a year of requests from some of its largest users, 3Com has launched an Internet-based knowledge database service designed to eventually provide answers to problems for all its product lines.
3Com Knowledgebase (http:// knowledgebase.3com.com) is a database of answers 3Com engineers generated in response to questions addressed to the company's technical support services. The free Web-based service was designed to provide a quicker and less expensive alternative to users who would otherwise call the vendor's technical support group.
After registering for the around-the-clock service, a user enters a description of the problem. The system matches the problem with similar problems in its database, then presents a list of options to the user. List choices narrow the search and direct the user to the answer.
"We've been pushing for this type of information on the Net, and it's proved to be very useful," said Knowledgebase beta tester Bob Napier, a senior network engineer at Lockheed Martin and a vice president of 3Com's US user group.
"We were able to find out how to activate advanced features on a 3Com switch without having to call technical support. It saved us a lot of time."
The initial release of Knowledgebase contains technical solutions for hubs, switches, LAN and PC modem cards, network interface cards and remote-access products. Information on PalmPilot and video networking products will be added soon.
Cisco and Bay offer similar Net-based services, but unlike 3Com, their customers must buy support contracts to use the offerings.
Users benefit in two ways, said Richard Brewer, a senior IDC analyst.
"Users don't have to wait on or sit by the phone for technical support. Also, 3Com can reassign its very expensive and hard-to-find telephone support people to solving more complex problems," Brewer said.
Knowledgebase also has technical tips on functions, such as resetting switch passwords, configuring adapter cards to support Windows 95 and locating drivers.
There's room for improvement with Knowledgebase, said Napier, who suggested 3Com include a list of known bugs for which fixes aren't yet available. 3Com plans to make that available by year's end, a spokeswoman said.
And it would also be nice to be able to stay connected to Knowledgebase and download software from there, rather than having to go to another site to get software updates for switches and other fixes as users must do now, said another beta tester, Kim Baryluk, network manager at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada.
3Com has already created links for some products and aims to do so for every product, according to the company spokeswoman.