Juniper Divvies Up the Core

Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) is upping the size of its core routers, but more importantly, it's touting a carrier-network virtualization that could expand the market for monster multichassis systems. (See Juniper Updates Core.)

The idea would be to let carriers offer hosted backbone networks that all run on common routers. It's analogous to data center virtualization, where a particular server can host different applications for different clients. The idea isn't new to telecom, but Juniper thinks its technology, combined with carriers' need for new revenue sources, could really make it work.

"There are models that are going to take a while to get adopted, but the carriers we talk to, they see the potential," says Luc Ceuppens, senior director of Juniper's high-end business unit.

On the surface, the TX Matrix Plus -- which will be announced today and is due to ship in the third quarter -- is just another salvo in the war of the big core routers. Specifically, it's the box that makes multichassis routers out of Juniper's T1600s, a development that was promised when the T1600 launched in 2007. (See Juniper Attacks Cisco's CRS-1.)

So, let's start with the numbers.

The T1600 has 1.6 Tbit/s of capacity (800 Gbit/s if you don't add incoming and outgoing traffic together). The TX Matrix Plus can put 16 of the T1600s together to form a node with capacity of around 25 Tbit/s or, put another way, room for 1,024 10-Gbit/s ports.

The TX Matrix Plus still doesn't match the 92 Tbit/s claims for a maxed-out CRS-1 configuration from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO). But it's a catchup step that Juniper needed to take.

"To be frank, they needed to bring the Matrix Plus to market, because it's something Cisco has had already," IDC analyst Eve Griliches says.

The argument for these multichassis routers has been that big carriers really are going to need that much routing firepower. Cisco says the multichassis market is starting to blossom, as it's got 20 customers using multichassis CRS-1s. (See Cisco Toasts Big Iron.)

That may be true, but it still defines a limited market for these boxes. That's where Juniper's virtualization pitch comes in.

The virtual world
Juniper's virtualization pitch plays on the idea that larger service providers already tend to use multiple subnetworks to accommodate services. "A lot of these networks are managed by different operational groups, and that's the way it used to be in the data center," Ceuppens says.

So, what could you do with carrier-network virtualization? Well, anyone remember Allegro Networks? (See Allegro Holds a House Party .) Similar to Allegro, Juniper is pitching its new core router as a vehicle for networking-as-a-service. A TX Matrix Plus setup would sit on the network as a pool of bandwidth that multiple parties could tap, letting a carrier lease out part of its backbone, in a sense.

For instance, large carriers could make peace with over-the-top video services by giving them their own content delivery networks, which the carrier could even manage. Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) has talked to content owners about this, Ceuppens says, and he thinks Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) is considering the possibility, too.

"A couple of years ago, everybody thought Google would build their own network. Now, I think they realize what an undertaking it would be, not only to build it, but to manage it," Ceuppens says.

Other possibilities: The carrier could become the wholesale provider of a small operator's network backbone, or lease out a network arm to a service provider that lacks a presence in a certain geographic area.

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