Juniper Storms Into Ethernet Switching

Craig Matsumoto
News Analysis
Craig Matsumoto, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading
1/29/2008



NEW YORK -- Four years after the acquisition of NetScreen, Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) is making a full-blown assault on enterprise business, finally striking at the heart of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) territory.

In a press and analyst gathering here this morning, Juniper trotted out a new line of Ethernet switches and a cluster of powerhouse partnerships. In the latter camp, CEO Scott Kriens announced IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), and Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL) will all be building applications and services based on Juniper's network infrastucture. (See Juniper Bows Ethernet Switches.)

Juniper is also opening up its network to partners, providing software development kits (SDKs) to give them access to the enterprise network's core for the first time. This move follows Juniper's proclamation last month that select partners would get access to its software. (See Juniper Opens Up to Apps Developers.)

The different aspects of today's announcements cover areas long viewed as critical in Juniper's attempt to battle Cisco for enterprise business. Despite the prestige of NetScreen, both the switches and the partnerships have been missing from Juniper's enterprise pitch.

Cisco, which made its own Ethernet splash with Monday's Nexus launch, didn't get mentioned by name. (See Cisco's Nexus Targets Data Center's Future.) But Juniper got its share of needling in -- particularly by revealing the IBM partnership early in the presentation.

Having its top distribution partner line up with its top rival "is a bit of a black eye for Cisco," says analyst Tim Daubenspeck of Pacific Crest Securities Inc. "I can see why Cisco wanted to get the Nexus out yesterday and generate some good news."

The situation in enterprise networks matches what Juniper saw in service-provider networks roughly 10 years ago, Kriens said. In 1998, Juniper introduced the M40 as a way to smooth out the overly complicated nature of the network. Today, Juniper sees that same kind of complexity in enterprise software.

"When we look at the opportunity to serve this market, to respond to the chaos that we see in the enterprise market and the need for order, it brings us to exactly the same opportunity with the same DNA," Kriens said.

On the hardware side, Juniper unveiled the EX line of Ethernet switches. ("Unveiled" literally: Juniper founder Pradeep Sindhu pulled a black cloth off an array of EXs while the song "Rock You Like a Hurricane" played over the PA system. It was apparently a reference to the chip, reportedly code-named "Hurricane," that's at the heart of the EX. Mercifully, the music stopped after a few bars.)

Juniper has done a lot to answer its critics in Ethernet, and its Junos operating system offers a Layer 2-only option now. (See Juniper Gains Ethernet Mojo.) The EX line, though, represents the company's first large-scale foray into pure Layer 2 switching, as opposed to the Layer 3 IP routing that's been Juniper's hallmark.

The EX boxes, running on Junos, cover quite a range:

  • The EX 3200 is a fixed-configuration platform, with different versions carrying 24 or 48 ports of Gigabit Ethernet, with optional four- and two-port 10-Gbit/s Ethernet uplink modules.

  • The EX 4200, the most unusual of the EXs, is what Juniper is calling a "virtual chassis." It's the same size as the EX 3200, but 10 of them can be interconnected across a 128-Gbit/s backplane, creating a virtual switch with up to 480 Gigabit Ethernet ports and 20 uplink ports of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet. The idea is to take up less space and require less cooling than a one-box modular switch.

  • The EX 8200s, fitting in half a standard equipment rack, can pack a maximum of 128 wire-speed 10-Gbit/s Ethernet ports each, Juniper says. That means Juniper can provide 256 ports per rack, which matches the initial configuration offered by Cisco's Nexus 7000.


The EX lines appear to outdo Cisco's Nexus in some aspects. Neither Nexus nor Catalyst offers the multichassis ability of the EX 4200, for example. And the promise of "wire-speed" 10-Gbit/s Ethernet ports might equate to more port capacity than Nexus, which appears to require overprovisioning if all 10-Gbit/s ports are used.

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Juniper might also beat Nexus to market, at least with the smaller boxes. The EX 3200 and EX 4200 series are due to ship in March; the EX 8200 won't be coming until the second half of the year. (The first Nexus chassis ships in the second quarter.)

Boxes alone won't get Juniper into the hearts of enterprise users, however. Juniper spiced its announcement by bringing in big-name partners.

Early in the New York presentation, IBM took the stage to announce it's using Juniper's equipment as part of a managed security services offering.

Chris Rouland, chief technology officer of IBM's security systems group, also noted his company has big plans to take advantage of the SDK. Closed networks "have forced applications like threat mitigation and security to the edge of the network," he said -- which has given rise to a frequently quoted security maxim that the network is "hard on the outside and soft and chewy in the middle."

"I'm glad to hear it's more than just a security partnership. The fact that it goes all the way into IBM Global Services is positive," Daubenspeck says.

Juniper's hookup with IBM has been rumored for some time. Many observers think it's a logical move, because Cisco's data center advances -- the inclusion of storage networking in Nexus's story, for instance -- are beginning to encroach on IBM's turf.

Microsoft and Oracle representatives were due to speak at Juniper's New York event but had not taken the stage at press time.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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