Juniper exec gives inside look at QFabric

R.K. Anand, executive vice president and general manager of Juniper Networks' Data Center Business Unit, was employee No. 12 of the network startup back in 1996, leaving a job as a microprocessor designer at Sun Microsystems. Years later he left Juniper for a brief stint at another startup, but came back to help finalize the company's QFabric product and get it out the door. QFabric began shipping in September 2011. Network World Editor in Chief John Dix recently caught up with Anand at the company's headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif., for a deep dive on the company's answer to high-end data center demands.

Why does the world need QFabric?

If you go back four, four and a half years ago, there were a few mega-trends emerging. Data centers were being consolidated and networks were becoming good enough to enable the push to the cloud. That is, the enterprise could say, my network bandwidth to far away places is sufficient, I have reasonable latency, I have diversity in paths, so I could have my computing elements and storage elements detached.

But it was becoming apparent that data centers would be facing a scale challenge because of the tiered models employed. The tiers have two dimensions -- one was the tier hierarchy of the switching model, with access, aggregation and core switches, and then there are the work tiers -- the Web tier, the app tier and the database tier. Together this represented a networking problem at scale that demanded a true any-to-any solution.

So we looked at the problem and said, OK, how does one address that? And we realized we could not just approach it the way switching has been done for the last 25 years. When one builds standard switching, you hit physics limitations. If I have a half-rack box, there is only so much power you can bring into it, there is only so much cooling you can put through it, and there are only so many square inches of faceplate real estate you can use for connectivity.

That exercise required us to think about taking the single half-rack switch and exploding it -- that is, breaking away from the bonds of the physical metal frame the box sits in. When you break those bonds, you see a half-rack switch is basically a set of line cards that connect up with a fabric. And those fabrics allow any-to-any port connectivity with fixed latencies, and the box works at its scale. So if you could break that metallic bond and make a fabric technology that connected those line cards in a much more scalable fashion, then you will have solved the problem.

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