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Juniper Cracking SDN Open

Craig Matsumoto
12/13/2012

5:00 AM -- Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) isn't commenting on why it's acquiring Contrail Systems , but it seems likely the startup could be the basis for an open-source software-defined networking (SDN) controller. (See Juniper Buys Contrail for (More) SDN Smarts.)

Open-source technology would be Juniper's way to combat its larger competitors in the data center market, as Brad Brooks, vice president of the company's software division, told Light Reading earlier this fall.

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW) will produce their own proprietary controllers and are big enough for that to succeed, Brooks said. Other rivals, such as IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), might rely on outside controllers -- Big Switch would be a possibility -- but they've got established data-center customers to help pull them into the SDN age.

How does a company such as Juniper, which Brooks pegged as having 5 percent of the data-center switching market, stand up against that? The answer is to nurture an environment of open-source components, one where an outsider's gear can easily slip into place as a second or third source, he said.

"We believe that effort is going to arise. There are just too many interested parties based on the opportunities that this creates," Brooks said.

So Contrail -- which Juniper announced Wednesday it's buying for $176 million in cash and stock -- could have a controller that Juniper will eventually push as an open-source offering.

It seems likely, considering Juniper must have known what Contrail was doing from very early on. The SDNCentral blog mentions rumors that Contrail has been a Juniper spin-in all along. If that's the case, then Juniper has adopted the same approach as Cisco with Insieme Networks Inc. , and Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), with Nuage Networks. (See Cisco Outlines an SDN Plan and Alcatel-Lucent Has a Top-Secret SDN Startup!.)

Juniper at least invested in Contrail, Executive Vice President Robert Muglia noted in a brief blog entry Wednesday.

Every vendor talks about having this open, standards-based approach, but it's yet to be seen how far down that path Cisco and VMware will go. This is Juniper's chance to take the moral high ground -- in the eyes of open-source fans, anyway -- while also seeding the market with a controller that, by definition, will welcome Juniper's gear (or anybody's).

The other possibility is that Juniper has given up on open source and is making its own proprietary controller play. But that sounds suicidal, unless Contrail has found the Cosmic Cube of SDN architectures.

Best not to think about that.

— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading

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