First look: Juniper's core SDN switch

Juniper does not have a migration plan for current EX8200 users to EX9200 40/100G Ethernet/SDN switch

Earlier than expected, Juniper this week unveiled the EX9200 programmable core switch for 10G, 40G and 100Gbps software-defined networks.

The EX9200 is a complete core replacement for current generation EX8200 customers looking for 40/100G Ethernet and/or SDN programmability. None of the EX8200 line cards are forward compatible with the EX9200, Juniper says.

"(The upgrade) sounds drastic, but the EX8200 is successful in lower density markets," says Dhritiman Dasgupta, Juniper senior director or product marketing and strategy. "We did not have a solution for very high speed densities."

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Juniper does not yet have an EX8200-to-EX9200 migration or trade-in program in place for customers but is working on one, Dasgupta says.

The EX9200 is based on Juniper's MX edge router rather than the EX switch. It runs that same 3+-year-old One/Trio ASIC as the MX and form factors are identical, but chassis, line cards, switch fabric, routing engines and software are not, Dasgupta says.

Only power supplies, fan trays, air filters and power cables are interchangeable components between the EX9200 and MX router, he says. New guts were necessary to bring the MX-based EX9200 down to a switch price point, he says - functionally-enriched routers cost much more than switches.

Juniper went with the MX technology instead of the EX switch platform for the EX9200 due to the programmability of the Trio ASIC, Dasgupta says.

"We would not have been able to deliver that" with the EX platform, he says.

He also claims that the EX8200 was never designed for 40/100G Ethernet despite the multi-terabit switch capacity numbers Juniper touted for the box. Nonetheless, customers may have been sold on the EX8200 with the understanding it was "100G Ready" -- Juniper resellers and channel partners are being advised to reassure those customers that Juniper will continue to invest in and support the EX8200, and aid in the migration to the EX9200, sources familiar with the program have said.

Dasgupta says the EX8200 will receive mostly software enhancements from here on in.

The EX9200 has also cast future development of the QFabric Interconnect, the core of Juniper's QFabric single-tier data center fabric switching system, into question. Sources say QFabric will remain Juniper's lead platform for single-tier fabrics but for "10G-only" implementations, despite the platform's support for currently shipping 40G interfaces.

The majority of QFabric top-of-rack switches - called "nodes" in the QFabric architecture - already have 40G uplinks, Dasgupta says.

QFabric will be positioned as the alternative to Cisco's Nexus 7000 with "F" series cards, which are optimized for high-density, low-power, shallow buffers and limited features, sources say. EX9200 will be positioned against the Nexus 7000 "M" series in the data center, and against Cisco's Catalyst 6500E and HP's 7500/10500/12500 switches in the campus core with large physical or logical scale, and/or 40/100G requirements, they say.

It is unclear what Juniper will position against Cisco's new Nexus 6000 40G data center switch but it's conceivable the EX9200, perhaps in combination with QFabric top-of-rack nodes, will take that on as well.

Dasgupta says Juniper is still committed to continued development of single-tier fabric architectures and that there's demand for the predictable low latency switching it's designed for. He says Juniper is signing up a couple of "full" QFabric - node and interconnect - customers per quarter.

"In 10 years, every data center will need an architecture like QFabric," Dasgupta says. "You will be able to sign your application performance SLAs in blood" with such an architecture.

He would not comment on whether 100G is planned for QFabric, but it appears it is still unclear if the QFabric Interconnect will attain it.

"I can't comment on when 100G [might emerge] for QFabric at the edge," Dasgupta said, apparently referring to the top-of-rack nodes. Juniper declined to clarify Dasgupta's remark.

If only QFabric top-of-rack nodes attain 100G, they will connect into an EX9200 core for two-tier data center networking, sources say. Juniper is positioning the EX9200 as the optimal platform for that, they say, in combination with the EX series and/or QFabric 1G/10G top-of-rack switches.

In addition to the EX9200, Juniper this week also unveiled a network management application for controlling mixed environments of wired and wireless LANs in campuses and data centers. Junos Space Network Director includes the RingMaster management application Juniper obtained from its acquisition of Trapeze Networks in 2010.

Network Director will work with a new virtualized wireless controller Juniper also rolled out this week. The JunosV Wireless LAN Controller is software that runs as a VM on x86 servers that's designed to abstract the underlying hardware appliance that provides wireless control services.

The JunosV WLC will be embedded in the EX9200 in about a year, Dasgupta says. From the core, it will be able to manage thousands of access points and tens of thousands of WLAN users, with high-availability, he says.

Jim Duffy has been covering technology for over 25 years, 21 at Network World. He also writes The Cisco Connection blog and can be reached on Twitter @Jim_Duffy.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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