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SDN is disruptive at Juniper

Reports of turmoil, upheaval as management points finger after reversals, misfires

There's a juicy piece in SDN Central this week on the engineering implosion at Juniper Networks. As the story goes, switching and software architects are leaving Juniper after having the Contrail SDN controller rammed down their throats and being belittled by CTO and Founder Pradeep Sindhu, who must be feeling a bit of pressure and embarrassment after the QFabric flop and Juniper's initial foot dragging with SDN.

Indeed, the SDN Central story reads like the tale of a scientist deaf to customer demand as he foists his experiments onto a reluctant society... Ken Olsen and PCs and Unix, revisited.

+MORE ON NETWORK WORLD: Juniper switching boss talks technology challenges, Cisco Nexus 6000+

Our own sources corroborate the SDN Central story. One such engineer that left is Benson Schliesser, who is now working with Brocade Service Provider CTO and Chief Scientist David Meyer, to steer Brocade's SDN and NFV activities. Meyer, who is also chair of the OpenDaylight SDN project, recently took on the additional role of director of the University of Oregon's Advanced Network Technology Center.

Schliesser is also chair of the IETF's Network Virtualization Overlay (NVO3) working group. He said he was excited about the opportunity at Brocade but would not discuss whether the upheaval at Juniper hastened his departure.

Other SDN engineers who have left Juniper in recent months include Thomas Nadeau and Olivier Vautrin.  Nadeau said he couldn't discuss details of his departure under an agreement between he and Juniper. Vautrin said he moved to commodity switch maker Pica8 because "I believe in the White Box switching market and being the head of product management in a small startup is very exciting."

UPDATE: Juniper Distinguished Engineer Ken Gray, who co-authored an SDN book with Nadeau, also left the company this month and returned to Cisco. A Juniper spokesperson said the company doesn't comment on "rumor or speculation."

All four engineers, we are told, were working on OpenDaylight, the vendor-driven open source SDN framework project sponsored by the Linux Foundation. Juniper, however, dismissed the significance of OpenDaylight (as did HP) and then released its own open source version of the Contrail controller. The SDN Central story this week states that Juniper contributed dollars but no code to OpenDaylight.

The SDN Central story also notes that perhaps half of the switching engineers in Juniper's Campus and Data Center business unit have left the company following QFabric's market languish, the apparent abandonment of that single-tier fabric strategy, and displeasure with management. Our sources say this is not directly tied to Juniper's SDN strategy and Contrail, but more to do with product direction and management.

Juniper unveiled two new fabric architectures late last year and now offers many more than QFabric's single-tier approach. When QFabric's initial swipe at a single-tier fabric supporting more than 6,000 servers fell flat in the market, the company had to scale down the implementation. Juniper also unveiled a new data center and enterprise core switch that essentially obsoletes its EX 8200, entails a disruptive upgrade and further marginalizes QFabric's single-tier architecture.

The revolving door might spin faster if Juniper's software solutions division is folded into its platform systems division under new CEO Shaygan Kheradpir, a former Verizon and Barclays IT executive. There's talk that that may be in the works, and may have ignited the abrupt departure of SSD chief Bob Muglia.

With a new CEO onboard who comes from a large Juniper customer, Juniper can ill afford to develop products to prove a point or satisfy an intellectual itch rather than meet customer demand. It will be interesting to see if the customer CEO has much patience for the science experiment CTO, and vice versa.

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