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Cisco vs. Juniper: How different are their SDN strategies?

Analysts see more convergence than divergence with recent Cisco, Juniper releases

By , Network World
February 07, 2013 01:43 PM ET

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Cisco Catalyst
Cisco Catalyst 3850 features a new programmable ASIC that enables the switch to participate in a Cisco ONE SDN.

Cisco's ONE, or Open Networking Environment strategy, includes an API platform to instill programmability into its three core operating systems: IOS, IOS XR and NX-OS. It's focused on five key markets and also includes new programmable ASICs, like the UADP chip unveiled with the new Catalyst 3850 enterprise switch; and a software-based controller for data centers that runs on x86 servers. New ASICs are also expected to be front-and-center when the Cisco-funded Insieme Networks start-up unveils what's expected to be a high-performance programmable switch and controller line.

Juniper's strategy initially targets data centers, and its new software licensing model is based on enterprise practices. The company will expand its traditional carrier and service provider customers from there.

Among the first markets addressed in Cisco's ONE strategy are enterprise customers, data centers and cloud providers.

"Juniper ultimately sees SDN at all layers of the network, spanning not only the data center -- edge/access and core --, but also the WAN, campus and branch," says IDC's Casemore. "Juniper's SDN road map initially targets the SP edge and data center, but it does plan to follow SDN into other areas.

"Cisco sees data center and cloud as near-term markets, and its positioning to play across the board as SDN -- and its outcomes, network virtualization and network programmability -- extends its reach," Casemore says. "Again, there are many similarities."

In terms of market disruption, Fratto says both companies see SDN as perhaps equally disruptive even though one has been much more vocal about that impact than the other.

"I think the two companies view SDN as disruptive but they are approaching it very differently," he says. "Juniper tends to be more conservative in bringing new products to market, particularly with Junos. They have a quarterly software update cycle and they march to that drum. I think they have a strong preference for stability in the platform and based on their consistent messaging on that topic.

"I think for Cisco, the disruption is there but the recent announcements tell a lot about its direction going forward," Fratto continues. "I think it signals ... wanting to be vendor and protocol agnostic vs. promoting their own technology over others. The ONE controller, for example, is modular and will support OnePK and Openflow out of the gate, but there is no reason other than development that it can't support other protocols."

Casemore sees both companies reacting to SDN developments, rather than driving them.

"Neither has led the charge toward SDN. Both are measuring their responses, trying to find a balance between supporting their customers today while preparing for potentially disruptive shifts."

And Casemore sees both equally emphasizing hardware, despite Juniper's software-intensive strategy.

"Juniper has a lot of existing hardware, and hardware customers, that it will attempt to fold into its SDN strategy," he says. "We will see hardware and software from both Cisco and Juniper, as their common ASIC strategies suggest."

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