Juniper Gets More Redundant

Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) continued its Ethernet/IPTV offensive today with the release of the M120 router, a box that comes with a new processor and a new architecture meant to add protection at the processor level.

Targeting medium-sized POPs, the M120 is a smaller sequel to the M320, Juniper's multiservice edge router launched two years ago. (See Juniper Hatches the M320.) It can support 128 Gigabit Ethernet ports along with two 10-Gbit/s uplinks that can run Ethernet or Sonet/SDH.

The M120 comes with enhancements such as quality of service (QOS) for Ethernet and application-minded queuing that can prioritize voice or video -- the kinds of things meant to appeal to carriers' IPTV demands. Juniper has been criticized for lagging Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) in carrier Ethernet and, therefore, in Ethernet-heavy IPTV jobs. The company has responded by promising a series of product rollouts covering the rest of the year. (See Juniper Tunes Its Ethernet, IPTV Stories and IPTV, Alcatel Still Dog Juniper.)

But IPTV aside, the most striking difference in the M120 is the way it handles packets inside the box. "What our customers have called for is more redundancy," says Alan Sardella, a Juniper product marketing manager.

The M120 answers that by separating two of the primary functions of a linecard: packet parsing, where the header is extracted and read; and packet forwarding, which includes determining what priority level the packet gets and which queue it gets assigned to.

Usually, a linecard handles both functions and sends the packet off to the switching card. Juniper has split up the functions so that one card begins the process, then moves it to another card called a forwarding engine board (FEB) for the packet forwarding step, when then sends it to the switching card.

The FEBs include Juniper's new network processor, dubbed I-Chip, which handles Layer 2 forwarding and Layer 3 routing requirements and interprets QOS levels, among other functions. That's the piece Juniper is protecting with this extra redundancy: If one I-Chip goes down, traffic can be routed to a backup FEB.

Juniper insists this doesn't add to the complexity of the router. The M120's switching cards have been merged onto the control cards inside the box, freeing up slots for the FEBs. And while it's true a packet needs one more "jump" to get through the router, Juniper says the increased redundancy is what carriers have asked for.

"This is just one more level of hardware redundancy," Sardella says. It's appearing as a POP requirement for a few reasons, one being to preserve service-level agreements, giving Ethernet the kind of backup found in older ATM and Frame Relay services. Moreover, capabilities such as high availability are becoming important further towards the network edge, not just at the core. "As convergence moves out of the core and spreads throughout the network, the capabilities you need on the multiservice edge are approaching what we've always needed in the core," Sardella says.

Analyst Eve Griliches of IDC thinks the extra redundancy will be welcomed by carriers. A former product manager with router vendor Wellfleet, she had asked for this kind of redundancy only to be told, back then, that it was too difficult to add.

"I had asked for processor redundancy like that. Why couldn't we have one processor that the other processors fail over to?" Griliches says. "That's a huge benefit."

The I-Chip is likely to turn up in future boxes, too, although Juniper won't discuss specifics.

Separately, the M120 gives Juniper another router with 10-Gbit/s capabilities. Older routers such as the M20 and M40e, were built for 2.5-Gbit/s traffic. "Another router that has 10-Gbit/s uplinks is a really important space for them to fill," Griliches says.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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