Ethernet equipment

Juniper Readies Ethernet Launch

Multiple sources say Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) is close to releasing its home-built Ethernet products and that the company is using merchant silicon chips to build them.

That would be a new chapter for Juniper on two fronts. First, the company hasn't sold plain Layer 2 switches before, a fact that's led to repeated rumors of Juniper acquisitions. (See Is Juniper Eyeing H3C? and Juniper Shopping for Atrica?) Second, the use of outside chips would break the Juniper mold of developing its own ASICs to power boxes like the M- and T-series routers.

When Light Reading reported on the Ethernet projects last year, it was unclear whether Juniper wanted to build a linecard (going into its M- or E-series boxes) or a brand new Ethernet system. (See Juniper's Ethernet Strategy Emerging.) Now, sources say the company is doing both. One source says the switch has been completed and is being readied for a launch in May.

According to another source, Juniper is using an EZchip Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: EZCH) network processor for the card and Sandburst Corp. chips for the separate system. The latter contract reportedly spurred Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) to acquire Sandburst recently. (See Broadcom Builds on Sandburst.)

Juniper officials say they won't comment on rumors. Representatives for EZchip and Sandburst were not immediately available for comment.

Neither Ethernet product is targeting low-end LANs. Rather, Juniper is said to be tackling carrier Ethernet, a market that's heating up as carriers focus on Ethernet services and IPTV. The latter uses Gigabit Ethernet links to hook up homes to video feeds, creating a need for high-density Ethernet aggregation boxes.

Alcatel has gotten plenty of attention here with its 7450 Ethernet Service Switch, in some ways besting Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) for some IPTV contracts, and it's presumed that other vendors, including Juniper, are having to respond with similar architectures. (See IPTV Alters Network Landscape and Alcatel Router Revenues Surge.)

"We expect Juniper to introduce a box in that space," says Steve Kamman, an analyst with CIBC World Markets . A May launch, prepping the company for a Globalcomm splash in June, would make sense, he says.

It's possible to take the carrier Ethernet obsession too far, Kamman notes, citing the example of Ethernet vendor Riverstone Networks Inc. (OTC: RSTN.PK) building a router to suit carrier networks. "That sort of suggests there's a future for routers in an Ethernet-dominated world. But Ethernet is still a space where Juniper needs a presence," he says.

That Juniper has multiple projects underway isn't surprising -- large companies often launch competing designs to tackle a concept, eventually picking just one winner. To that end, Juniper has been looking hard at network processors to suit a variety of ideas, according to a chip-industry source.

"Over a period of three-and-a-half years, there has been more and more activity [at Juniper] around industry-standard silicon. It feels like they're taking it a lot more seriously," the source says. Juniper has considered multiple product designs, "almost always in competition with a project that used internal stuff," the source says.

Given that pattern, it's difficult to call the Ethernet card a sure thing. Another source, though, says the full Ethernet switch is good to go.

While Juniper ASICs have done the company proud, outside silicon seems sensible when it comes to Ethernet aggregation and transport, because carriers expect those boxes to be cheaper than routers. "Repurposed router silicon tends to be too expensive for that," says the chip-industry source.

Taking the concept a step further, one source even believes Juniper is hiring an original design manufacturer (ODM) to build the Sandburst-based Ethernet switch. Such practices, common for commodity equipment, haven't yet reached high-end carrier boxes. But chip vendors hope to change that through standards such as AdvancedTCA . (See ATCA Starts to Rumble.)

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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