Juniper to unveil programmable core switch for software-defined networking

Based on MX router, what becomes of Juniper's QFabric Interconnect, EX8200?

Juniper Networks is readying a new programmable core switch to address software-defined networking in campuses and data centers.

Sources say it is called the EX9200 and is based on the MX router. It comes in three configurations: 4-slot, 8-slot and 14-slot chassis, the same form factors as the company's successful MX 240, 480 and 960 routers for enterprises and service providers.

Juniper MX routers

Credit: Juniper

Sources say that the form factor of Juniper Networks' new programmable core switch is based on the company's MX family of routers, shown here.

An overview of it can be found here. Juniper confirmed it will be unveiling a "new, advanced switch" and offered an embargoed briefing, but Network World declined.

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The EX9200 is based on custom silicon -- the Juniper One programmable ASIC. The MX 240, 480 and 960 are based on Juniper's I-Chip and Trio chipsets. The EX9200 will support 240G/slot, and 40xGigabit Ethernet, 32x10G, 4x40G and 2x100G interface line cards.

Programmability features, in addition to the Juniper One ASIC, include an XML- and Netconf-accessible automation toolkit, and Puppet, Python and OpenFlow interfaces. Puppet is an open-source operations management software system; Python is a programming language; and OpenFlow is a popular controller-to-switch protocol and API for SDNs.

SDNs are a way to make network more programmable through software so that they can be reconfigured quickly and functionally extended more easily.

The EX9200 will also support plug-ins to orchestration systems from VMware and OpenStack.

The One ASIC will support VXLAN and NVGRE network virtualization, and MPLS-over-IP as programmable features. Juniper will program the ASIC itself initially but then plans to allow third-parties to eventually program in some features.

The EX9200 will support 1 million MAC addresses, 256k routes, 32,000 VLANs and 256k ACLs. It will support Layer 2/3 switching, MPLS, VPLS, L3VPN, point-to-multipoint, and 50 msec convergence using MPLS Fast Re-Route.

Sources say it will perform two-node Virtual Chassis, where two switches can be linked to form one logical switch, essentially creating a fabric. The EX8200 can be configured into a four-switch Virtual Chassis.

That the EX9200 is based on the MX router -- not the current EX platform -- and uses custom silicon before QFabric is indicative of the challenges Juniper is facing in enterprise and data center switching. The EX8200 has not had a major line card or switch fabric refresh since it was announced in 2008. And QFabric is based on merchant silicon -- Broadcom's Trident chipset -- after custom silicon reportedly failed to work and Juniper was pressed to get a much-hyped, much-anticipated product to market.

In last year's 500-employee, 5% staff reduction, speculation had it that Juniper cut loose many employees working on QFabric. Juniper said those reports were "inaccurate."

Around the same time, RK Anand, one of Juniper's early engineers and head of its data center switching group, departed, along with three other executive vice president-level officials. The data center switching group was also combined with the campus and branch business unit under Jonathan Davidson, whose background is largely in service provider routing.

The EX9200 also raises questions on the status and future of the EX8200 core campus switch, the QFabric Interconnect data center fabric switch and even the EX6200 "Simply Connected" core switch. Juniper has not disclosed or even hinted at any meaningful upgrade plans for the EX8200, such as 40/100G Ethernet or any next-generation switch fabric cards to support high density, high speed interfaces.

Juniper is also cagey on whether there will be a next-generation QFabric and if it will incorporate custom ASICs instead of merchant silicon. That QFabric sales have been slow -- and now that the EX9200 is imminent -- might be a signal that Juniper plans to go in another direction in fabric switching, specifically in the core, or spine.

Sources have said that QFabric has essentially been placed in maintenance mode: that significant development has ceased and only incremental features and fixes are currently planned, such as the possibility of fabric extenders. They also said that Juniper determined QFabric to be too complex and cost too much to build added features onto.

Some sources labeled the EX9200 as a "gap filler," or "MX paint job" until Juniper sorts out its campus and data center switching strategy. Juniper declined to comment on these issues.

Jim Duffy has been covering technology for over 25 years, 21 at Network World. He also writes The Cisco Connection blog and can be reached on Twitter @Jim_Duffy.

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