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Juniper switches architectures: What you need to know

A breakdown of MetaFabric, the latest architecture from Juniper.

Juniper Networks made a splash in enterprise networking when it announced its QFabric architecture about two years ago. QFabric was designed to be the foundation for the next-generation data center and offered a single-tier switching fabric. The solution was very innovative and the company was the first mainstream switching vendor to aggressively market the concept of a network fabric.

This week, Juniper unveiled its new MetaFabric architecture, which is a more holistic solution that includes not only switching but also routing, security and the company’s Contrail SDN Controller. The new MetaFabric architecture combines QFabric and the EX family, giving it a single architecture for both switch lines.

The most notable difference between MetaFabric and QFabric, though, is the fact that MetaFabric addresses a much bigger deployment than QFabric. When Juniper rolled out QFabric, the company was addressing the challenges in building a next-generation data center network. MetaFabric is designed to address the challenges of deploying a network within and across multiple data centers.

Two of the design principals are somewhat standard today. Juniper claims that MetaFabric is both "open" and "simple," although every vendor says that. I have yet to see a vendor that claims to be either closed or complicated. Every vendor has a certain amount of complexity involved with deploying the solution, so Juniper offers services that can help customers get the solution up and running.

There’s a third principal, though, and that’s that MetaSwitch is “Smart,” as described by Juniper. In this case, Juniper is using the term “smart” to describe the fact that MetaSwitch has some built-in analytics capabilities to help customers understand the environment better. I believe most vendors will have some level of openness and simplicity compared to legacy solutions, so this area of analytics may ultimately determine the long-term winners and losers in the next-generation data centers. Vendors provide a wealth of data from the network layer – the key is doing something with it to help customers understand what it all means and how to then further optimize the network.

As part of the launch, Juniper also announced a new top-of-rack switch (ToR), the QFX5100 that is based on Broadcom’s Trident II silicon. Over the next few weeks, we’ll see a bevy of solutions based on the new Broadcom chip, including the upcoming Cisco/Insieme launch, next week in New York. The QFX5100 can be used in Juniper’s virtual chassis fabric (VCF) as well as a leaf-spine architecture. The new ToR supports VXLAN, which makes sense given its place in the data center and the company’s plan to support NVGRE in the near future.

One can argue the success of QFabric today, given that the number of actual deployments seems limited. However, what can’t be argued is that Juniper tried to significantly change the way customers deploy networks within the data center. MetaFabric is a good evolutionary step for QFabric, as it extends the concept of simplicity to span multiple data centers base, but doesn’t require as radical a change to the network.

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