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How Q-ute! Juniper's QFabric Rethinks the Data Center

Craig Matsumoto
News Analysis
Craig Matsumoto
2/23/2011
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SAN FRANCISCO -- In a Wednesday press event, Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) unveiled QFabric, its overarching technology for scaling the control, data and management planes of the data center.

Yes, after hearing about the Stratus data-center fabric for two years, it's finally here and has a name.

QFabric is rather esoteric, but Juniper is providing a box for the press to fawn over: the first new product instantiating QFabric. Juniper claims it is the fastest 10Gbit/s top-of-rack switch ever, the 64-port QFX3500.

What's more important is the entire structure behind QFabric, which makes the data center behave as if it were one giant switch. QFabric comes in three pieces: node, interconnect and director.

The nodes, consisting of Ethernet switches and similar devices, house a distributed control plane that's overseen by the director, which is made of software running on an ordinary server. Multiple directors can be planted around the network, operating as a hive mind to oversee this distributed control plane.

The interconnect is Juniper's mechanism for sending packets between nodes at what the company claims is nearly the lowest latency possible. There's a bit of magic here: CTO Pradeep Sindhu likens it to the superposition principle in quantum mechanics, in which photons take every possible path, and we see the sum of those paths. He wouldn't elaborate much, but apparently, packets have every possible path through the network available to them.

QFabric also avoids congestion using a mechanism similar to backpressure in water pipes, Sindhu said. Again, he wouldn't give details.

Neither is Juniper saying how big of a virtual data center can be built with QFabric. Those details will come out in June or July, Sindhu said.

Why this matters
This is Stratus fabric that Juniper has been talking about for two years. It's the company's ambitious attempt to become a crucial cog in enterprise data centers and a major offensive against a major Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) stronghold.

They're all pitching ways to create larger data centers that can accommodate the virtualization and heavily distributed applications that are coming in vogue. There's also a nod here to the big data centers built by the likes of Facebook and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG). The trick is to avoid building monstrous data centers that get bogged down in performance or overloading space and power limitations.

The answer being posed by Juniper -- and by Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), in an earlier announcement -- is to make the data center look like one giant switch, as far as the network is concerned. Part of the philosophy is to prevent having to add more layers of switches in order to make the network bigger.

Juniper's approach doesn't require that you use Juniper gear in the data center, although the company admits things will work better if you do.

Competition in this "fabric" concept is going to be intense, as vendors are, in a sense, selling the entire data center as a product, something much bigger and more complex than selling Ethernet switches.

For more
Here's the saga of Stratus (with a little bit of Brocade One and Cisco Universal Computing System added).



— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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Pete Baldwin
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Pete Baldwin,
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12/5/2012 | 5:12:19 PM
re: How Q-ute! Juniper's QFabric Rethinks the Data Center


I admit i rammed this story through without aid of the Juniper QFabric press release.  The node, interconnect, and director have real names: QF/Node, QF/Interconnect, QF/Director.


The latter two will be available in Q3, Juniper says. The Node can be just about anything with a standard interface -- any Ethernet switch, basically, but it does have to have some Juniper software infused.


The press conference is still going on, at this writing.  David Yen is saying the '3500 is actually 48x10GE plus 4x40G ports -- and those 40 can be split into 4x10G each if you want, which adds up to 64.


Claim is that the '3500 never drops packets, period, at any load level. Sounds hard to believe, but considering it's an easily tested factoid, Juniper must have a lot to back that up. Wonder if they'll submit it for that next set of 10GE tests that Nick Lippis plans to run.

Pete Baldwin
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Pete Baldwin,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:12:18 PM
re: How Q-ute! Juniper's QFabric Rethinks the Data Center


I may have overstated this in the story: QFabric is not meant to interconnect physically separate data centers.  Sindhu is saying they're working on a plan for that, but it's going to have to be a different technology.  Across sizable distance, the speed of light limits QFabric's abilities, apparently.

Pete Baldwin
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Pete Baldwin,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:12:18 PM
re: How Q-ute! Juniper's QFabric Rethinks the Data Center


Hey, they're gonna try. But to your point: it's noteworthy that the FC stuff is coming *later.*

Bob Saccamano
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Bob Saccamano,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:12:18 PM
re: How Q-ute! Juniper's QFabric Rethinks the Data Center


Juniper as a thought leader around Fibre Channel?  Oh please.

Pete Baldwin
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Pete Baldwin,
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12/5/2012 | 5:12:18 PM
re: How Q-ute! Juniper's QFabric Rethinks the Data Center


Brocade talks about the same layer-collapsing philosophy. They didn't give us the deep dive that Juniper did, so I can't directly compare the approaches - that could be interesting to look into.


Cisco's version of this is the unified fabric, especially in the sense of combining Ethernet and Fibre Channel. Juniper doesn't have that yet, it appears, but David Yen at the press conference is saying QFabric will eventually solve Fibre Channel scalability too.


Cisco does describe its unified fabric as creating a flat network. The approach, if i'm recalling it correctly, doesn't have the same back-to-basics approach Juniper took -- that is, Juniper's seems to be more of a complete rebuilding of the data center. (Note that you can migrate to QFabric in pieces; I think Juniper's said that before).

willygeorge
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willygeorge,
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12/5/2012 | 5:12:17 PM
re: How Q-ute! Juniper's QFabric Rethinks the Data Center


Juniper seems to already support  FCoE and Fiber Channel GW functionality on the QXF3500


http://www.juniper.net/us/en/products-services/switching/qfx-series/qfx3500/#literature


 


http://networktest.com/jnprqfx3500/

Bob Saccamano
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Bob Saccamano,
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12/5/2012 | 5:12:17 PM
re: How Q-ute! Juniper's QFabric Rethinks the Data Center


Did Juniper represent that QFabric uses only custom silicon that Juniper developed?

DCITDave
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DCITDave,
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12/5/2012 | 5:12:17 PM
re: How Q-ute! Juniper's QFabric Rethinks the Data Center


Why now? I'm curious about the timing of the announcement give that quite a few details are months down the road.

farsonic
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farsonic,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:12:16 PM
re: How Q-ute! Juniper's QFabric Rethinks the Data Center
I dont think it is big conspiracy as to why announce now. The qfx3500 works perfectly fine as a standalone top of rack switch, and the fabric can be added later to expand the solution.

So, if they have shipping product best get it out the door,
Pete Baldwin
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Pete Baldwin,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:12:15 PM
re: How Q-ute! Juniper's QFabric Rethinks the Data Center


Bob -- No, they did not... at least, my take is that they didn't. QFabric could very well include off-the-shelf chips too.

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