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Juniper's MX upgrade takes us back to the future

A look at Juniper's new MX Series 3D Universal Edge router, which aims to do what so many companies couldn't 10 years ago.

I started the analyst part of my career way back in March of 2001. I was hired by the Yankee Group to run a group that looked at broadband services and the first report I wrote was on a technology called “IP Service Switches.” These products came from companies like CoSine, Ennovate, Allegro, Celox, Shasta (acquired by Nortel) and SpringTide (acquired by Lucent), and promised to deliver scalable, low-cost virtual services from the edge of the service provider network. The idea being that a carrier could offer multi-tenant, value-added services from the edge of the network from a single platform. However, IP service switches never really took off and the category died a slow death.

Earlier this week Juniper made an announcement that seemed eerily similar to what these vendors tried to push back in 2001. The company unveiled a new set of hardware and software products that run on the MX Series 3D Universal Edge router. By deploying the MX 3D, service providers can offer a number of revenue-generating, value-added services, such as load balancing, firewalls, content management, security services and content streaming right from the edge of the network. After a closer look, the range of services Juniper is offering is broader than what was available in the IP Service Switches of 10 years ago, but the concept is the same.

The MX 3D enables both consumer and business features including content streaming, security features and application network, as well as some operational tools in completely isolated, virtual instances as line cards within the router. So this raises a question: if so many companies failed at doing this before, why will Juniper be successful now?

I think the answer to this is that the industry is better aligned to network or cloud-based services. A decade ago, almost all enterprise IT infrastructure, and home infrastructure for that matter, was located on premise, so the concept of buying something like a firewall as a service was way outside the comfort level of corporate IT. Today that’s not the case. Cloud services are commonplace, and they are exactly what give network-based security and application delivery services a purpose. Also, when the concept of edge services was hot before, the value proposition was that a telco could tie these additional revenue-generating services to the other products it sells. What other products? An Internet pipe? That’s hardly game changing. Today if an enterprise is going to push a server into the cloud then it stands to reason that everything that surrounds the server should also be made available in the cloud. That’s the new telco opportunity. The shift to cloud computing opens the door for telcos to sell a wide range of other cloud services. The MX 3D is a much more cost-effective, scalable way of offering these services compared to deploying individual appliances on a one-off basis.

The one big challenge that I see here is the pricing model. Thinking back, the pricing model for something like a network-based firewall ranged from free to several hundred per month. Any work Juniper can do here to help its telco customers come up with pricing models will be well received, as I’m not convinced the service providers fully understand what to charge for these types of services.

Overall, though, this is a strong announcement for Juniper and helps showcase the power of the Trio chipset. Contrary to much of the media hype, ASIC’s aren’t going away any time soon and the MX 3D’s ability to offer rich, multimedia services is a good example of why.

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