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Juniper Networks doubles down on virtualization

With a virtual offering of its flagship product, Juniper takes a huge step forward in network functions virtualization.

Cloud computing, mobility, and the Internet of Things have raised the bar on network agility. Service providers require an agile network to rapidly deliver services that can create new revenue streams. Network functions virtualization (NFV) has been viewed as a panacea to enable service providers to shift to a more agile network.

Juniper Networks has been among the most aggressive network vendors when it comes to NFV and has a robust set of virtual security offerings available today. This week, Juniper took a huge step forward with its NFV strategy by announcing it had virtualized its flagship product, the MX Series 3D Universal Edge Routing platform. The MX series has long been the workhorse for Juniper and is widely deployed in every region of the globe. It is arguable the company’s most successful product ever.

The new virtual MX, or vMX, enables service providers to spin up a virtual version of the router on an x86 server that can be scaled elastically when needed. One of the more interesting capabilities is that the vMX can be migrated to a physical MX series if the dedicated performance is required. Now service providers and enterprises can start with a lower-cost platform, test new services, and then migrate to a dedicated platform when it makes sense.

It’s worth noting that Juniper has virtualized the feature sets of both Junos and the programmable Trio chipset, so the exact same carrier-grade features that customers get with the physical appliance will be available in vMX as well. Many of the NFV platforms available today don’t have the same level of carrier-grade reliability to be a viable option for organizations where the network is the business.

Also, the vMX can be orchestrated by the Juniper Contrail SDN controller and OpenStack and then managed by Junos Space. So now the network can invoke MX services or create more virtual routers in conjunction with other changes.

Along with the vMX news, Juniper also announced an expansion of the Contrail portfolio with the release of Contrail Cloud, an OpenStack-based platform for cloud orchestration that brings together compute, network, virtualization, and storage. The Contrail Cloud product can be used to deliver virtual services, such as Juniper Firefly, and is supported by a strong set of ecosystem partners like Amdocs and Akamai.

Lastly, Junos can now be integrated with a number of configuration management solutions, such as Puppet and Chef, which seem to have become de facto standards, as well as programming languages such as Ruby and Python to help businesses better manage converged environments.

This is certainly a strong set of announcements for Juniper, which appears to be a company in transition. The vMX in particular can be viewed as a somewhat risky move as it could cannibalize the lower end of MX sales. I believe that vMX will expand the TAM for Juniper as the virtual version can be deployed in places where a traditional hardware appliance didn't make sense. I'm sure there will be some cannibalization at the fringe, but the upside benefit of TAM expansion should far outweigh the risks.

One last note – in an interview with Juniper, one of the individuals told me that the product had been co-created with one of the company's larger customers. This follows the direction that Juniper CEO, Shaygan Kheradpir, had laid out earlier this year when he said to expect more innovation through collaboration with its customers.

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