Cisco, Juniper Ready Data Center Assault
Cisco's Catalyst 6500 might be getting too old for the task, some analysts say. And Juniper's lack of an enterprise switch in general has kept it out of this market.
Cisco is readying the long-awaited successor to its Catalyst 6500, a supposed series of products called DC3. The first box, reportedly to be announced soon, will be a high-end version targeting the data center with promises of high-density 10 Gbit/s Ethernet.
"Soon" has an intriguing ring to it. Sources say the DC3 likely won't surface until January or February. But Cisco is holding a worldwide press and analyst gathering on December 11 in San Jose, Calif. That would make a tempting venue to launch a new platform, notes one source.
Talk of major Cisco products has floated for the past several months, and Cisco tipped its hand a bit in August. Executives on an earnings call confessed they've got an edge router and a new switch -- the latter presumably being DC3 -- in the works. (See Cisco Drops New Product Hints.) Details of the new boxes haven't come to light, however.
Even though Cisco dominates the Ethernet world, some analysts say the company is lacking the density and the low power being craved in data centers these days. That's opening up possibilities for competitors like Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR), Force10 Networks Inc. , Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY), and Woven Systems Inc.
"If Cisco were working on a switch, their goal would have to be high performance," says Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with Yankee Group Research Inc.
But lack of a super-high-end play to combat folks like Force10 might not be that important. "I've always thought of Cisco as a Swiss army knife, and for most buyers, that's the case. They don't know when they're really going to use the features," he says.
In other words, Cisco is a more generalized play, and it's not distressing that specialist products might outdo Catalyst in, say, 10-Gbit/Ethernet density. "If you want a hunting knife, you don't buy a Swiss army knife," Kerravala says.
He also notes that while Catalyst isn't the lowest-power switch, it can be used to virtualize lots of services. That removes the need for other boxes and ends up saving power, in a way.
That's all fine and good, but one source thinks Cisco has a larger goal in mind. Data centers use Ethernet, Fibre Channel, and Infiniband to shunt different types of data around. Cisco aims to produce a single box to deal with all three, the source says.
If that's the case, it could mean there's some involvement from Andiamo, Cisco's storage-networking spin-in, or Nuova, a virtualization startup in which Cisco took an 80 percent ownership last year. That the two firms were founded by the same people could be a help. (See Andiamo Crew Reunites With Cisco.)
Meanwhile, Juniper's got a data center hankering too, as sources say it's taking the MX960 into the enterprise with a product code-named Hurricane. Like Cisco, Juniper hopes to offer dense 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, using its carrier-class Ethernet box as a starting point.
Juniper has recently expanded the MX line with two smaller versions of the MX960. It's also outfitted its JunOS software so that the MXs and other boxes can run a full set of Layer 2 features. (See Juniper Gains Ethernet Mojo.)
A data-center anchor would mean a bit more to Juniper than to Cisco. Juniper's enterprise business still revolves around its Netscreen acquisition, one source noted, and the ability to pair that up with edge routers and WAN acceleration would give the company's enterprise pitch a serious boost.
Among the targets for the Cisco and Juniper boxes would be financial services companies -- and that's just unlucky timing. With Wall Street getting beat up by financial crises, those types of firms are "turning off the spigot," as one source put it.
Neither Cisco nor Juniper would comment on this article.
— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading