Juniper steps up its data center game

Juniper Networks NXTWORK 2015 data center announcements (CC BY-SA 3.0)

This week, Juniper is holding its "NXTWORK 2015" customer summit in Silicon Valley. At the event, Juniper made a number of data center announcements. These announcements come about a month after Juniper rolled out its "Unite" architecture aimed at the enterprise campus (disclosure: Juniper Networks is a client of ZK Research). While the two announcements are aimed at different parts of the network, there is a common focal point, and that's helping businesses build networks that are cloud-ready. The Unite architecture was focused on simplification, whereas Juniper's play in the data center is more about customer choice and automation.

The first piece of news out of NXTWORK 2015 is that Juniper has released a disaggregated version of Junos software. Although every network vendor claims to be a software vendor, the fact is that most network operating systems are an embedded part of the hardware platform. If one purchases a Juniper network device or any network endpoint from any vendor, the product comes as a turnkey solution with all features, services, platforms, and management tools integrated.

The disaggregated model allows a more open approach to networking. Instead of a single software image with all the features, Juniper provides open access to the Linux kernel so customers can orchestrate third-party network applications using Openstack, Apache, Netconf, or other tools. This architecture gives the ability to create a library of modular network services that can integrate with applications, orchestration tools, or third-party SDN controllers.

The full set of Junos features and network protocols, such as MPLS, BGP, EVPN, and VXLAN, are available in the disaggregated model, so customers who choose to deploy Juniper infrastructure this way won't lose any functionality. 

Customers can also use the disaggregated version of Junos to run the operating system on white box switches. The downside of this is that the hardware quality is lost. Over the past few years, the industry has had a certain level of mania over software, but I still maintain that hardware does matter. Juniper hardware is renowned for its reliability and scale, and much of this is lost with white box. However, for web-scale companies that can do their own hardware tuning and support, running Junos on a white box can save a significant amount of money while maintaining the rich Junos feature set. 

Also this week, Juniper announced its first two 25G/50G switches based on Broadcom's Tomahawk chip. The QFX5200 family is capable of running at 10, 25, 40, 50 or 100 Gbps. Customers can start at whatever speed they are running today and then upgrade when ready. The new QFX5200 switches support the disaggregated version of Junos, giving customers a number of different options for deployment. 

Also, the switches can be managed through the Junos Space Network Director version 2.5 management console, giving a complete view of the entire network. The new version of Network Director can be integrated into VMware vRealize Operations and has support for NSX. Network Director also includes an sFlow network traffic analyzer to better manage the network.

Everyone loves sexy new hardware, so I'm sure the QF5200s will get most of the media attention. However, the disaggregated version of Junos is a bold move, as Juniper becomes the first mainstream networking vendors to offer a white box alternative. Juniper has historically talked the talk about openness and choice, and now they're walking the walk.

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Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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