Juniper takes more shots at Cisco in the data center

Latest launch hits Nexus switches, ASR routers, legacy network incumbency

Juniper's data center announcement this week is another shot across the bow at Cisco, with direct hits on Cisco's Nexus switches and indirect jabs at the company's legacy in data center networking. But it's also yet another place setter for Juniper's upcoming Stratus launch, which was unveiled in early 2009 but is still another eight to 12 months away.

The thrust of Juniper's announcement this week was the need for a new network architecture optimized for virtualized data centers - an architecture that increases performance while reducing costs, and facilitates more server-to-server interaction as opposed to switch-to-switch. At the heart of this architecture is a reduction in the layers of networking in the data center, from three layers - access, aggregation and core - to two and then eventually to one, which will be embodied in Project Stratus.

Juniper says that $1 billion of the $4.8 billion spent on data center switching is for aggregation - the layer Juniper seeks to extract.

"The legacy approach can no longer scale to support virtualization," Juniper CEO Kevin Johnson said during this week's webcast announcement. "Fifty percent of the ports are talking to other network ports" vs. enabling server-to-server interaction, he says. "It's slow."

So this week's news is that Juniper has some new products that can deliver a two-tier data center architecture this year: a 48-port 10G Ethernet top-of-rack switch, a 40-port 10G Ethernet module for the chassis-based EX 8200 core switch, and an Ethernet router for interconnecting data centers with ASICs tuned for high-performance support of virtualization, server/storage/network convergence, and lossless Ethernet.

ASICs and JUNOS software in all of the new products are designed to support FibreChannel-over-Ethernet for storage/network convergence. JUNOS will have FCoE-specific hooks in it in the second half of this year, Juniper says.

Juniper says the top-of-rack EX 4500 has one-fifth of the latency and 22% lower cost than Cisco's Nexus 5000. It also says the new MX 80 3D Ethernet router takes up half the power and space of Cisco's ASR 1004, while providing an eightfold improvement in performance.

Cisco declined to comment on the Juniper announcement.

But key to flattening the network architecture is Juniper's Virtual Chassis technology. Currently, Virtual Chassis allows up to 10 of Juniper's fixed configuration EX switches to be connected into a virtual switch that supports hundreds of Gigabit Ethernet ports.

Ostensibly, this will alleviate the three-tier architecture requirement for an aggregation layer made up of several modular switches collecting links from switches in the server racks so that fatter and fewer pipes can run north and south into and out of the data center core. Virtual Chassis will be added to the EX 8200 line in the first half of 2011. It is also a future deliverable on the EX 4500 and the MX 80 3D.

Coincidentally, the first deliverable from Stratus will be in the first half of 2011. As Virtual Chassis spreads out across more of Juniper's product line, expect to see more tangible Stratus products and deliverables emerge. Stratus will essentially be a scaled out Virtual Chassis architecture capable of supporting thousands of servers and flattening the EX and MX architecture to look like a single Ethernet routing switch.

"Virtualization levels the network playing field," says Yankee Group's Zeus Kerravala. "The vendor that solves that problem first has a huge upside. Virtualization as a driver can change the network landscape."

Meanwhile, even though Cisco did not comment on the Juniper announcement, competitor Brocade did, and proactively too:

"Data centers are mission-critical environments and data center administrators are risk-averse by nature," a Brocade spokesperson e-mailed Network World. "They will not implement radical, untested technologies based on what they see in slideware. They require proven, bulletproof solutions that they know will work in their environments and for their applications. Juniper is just entering the business of building data center fabrics, something Brocade has been doing with our partners for almost two decades.  

"After three 'launches' of its Project Stratus, Juniper is still thin on actual implementation details other than a diagram of everything attached to one flat network, which raises more questions than it answers," the spokesperson continued in the e-mail. "Their latest announcement is more general purpose, top of rack Ethernet switches which are fine for general server networks but which ignore the larger data center challenges.  Juniper once again gives no indication how they will provide support for customers with existing storage networks utilizing technologies such as FibreChannel, the most important networking technology for tier-1 applications inside of the data center. Juniper also glosses over the storage requirements in its proposed architecture. Again, they still have not provided any meaningful details on how they will be building the data center 'fabric of tomorrow.'"

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