Juniper confines SDNs to data center

Juniper is initially focusing its software defined networking (SDN) strategy on the data center, a market where it can do itself the least amount of damage if the initiative fails to pan out.

Switching makes up the least amount of Juniper's product revenue, at 12%. Routers, security and services are all greater contributors. Also, Juniper's share of the $6.57 billion Layer 2/3 data center switch market in 2011 was 3.1%, placing it fifth behind Cisco, HP, Dell and IBM, according to Dell'Oro Group. Juniper may have a tough time building on that this year as 2012 is expected to still see mostly trials for its QFabric switches, a platform that continues to have its skeptics.

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While the rest of the industry was fixated last week on Cisco's response to the SDN craze, Juniper quietly unveiled its own SDN strategy at its financial analyst meeting and at a trade show in Japan. A transcript from the financial analyst meeting can be found on the SeekingAlpha.com site.

Similar to Cisco's strategy, Juniper's keys in on a northbound API between the network devices and the orchestration layer in an SDN, and marginalizes the use of the OpenFlow protocol but not its role; a couple of key differences, though, is that Juniper is focusing its initial SDN efforts on data center only versus Cisco's five target markets, and plans on injecting programmability into one operating system versus three for Cisco. [Also see: "Cisco on why OpenFlow alone doesn't cut it"]

"If I am running on every one of these nodes a different operating system, it actually makes it quite hard to write a controller that controls all these things," Juniper CTO Pradeep Sindhu said. "So we believe that the fact that all of our equipment runs Junos actually makes it much, much easier for us to do it compared to our competition."

On targeting the data center with SDNs, Juniper says that market lends itself to the centralized analytics and network provisioning facilitated by decoupled SDN control. Also, an SDN controller can optimally exploit the "massive amounts" of horizontally scalable general-purpose compute power employed by the IT industry, Sindhu said.

"SDN is a recognition by the networking industry that not all problems can be solved by putting the functionality inside these network nodes, which are generally geographically distributed," he said.

Juniper can also hurt itself least in the data center if SDN commoditizes hardware, as some expect, or if implementations fail to work as advertised. But Juniper is also intent on using SDN as a way to build market share.

"SDN is likely to emerge in the data center domain first, and Juniper has a very small share of that relative to other domains that we play in," said Bob Muglia, executive vice president of Juniper's Software Solutions Division, responding to a question on commoditization during the financial analyst meeting. "So we see this as an opportunity for us to take a pretty aggressive posture and use the expertise we have in software to help us gain share overall and an overall larger part -- larger percentage of the overall addressable market."

As for OpenFlow, which Juniper added to the Junos SDK last year, it's one way to facilitate interaction between the controller and the network nodes, but not the only way. OpenFlow has garnered much of the attention around SDNs, even catalyzing the hype surrounding it, but it's still an evolving technology and alternatives may be proposed during OpenFlow's evolution.

Indeed, Cisco sees OpenFlow's role contained to academia/research as a way to perform network "slicing," or partitioning. Academia/research is but one of the five markets -- enterprise, service provider, cloud service provider and data center being the others -- where Cisco is aiming its Cisco ONE programmable networking architecture.

"This interface ... between the controller and the network being controlled is intended to be an open standard interface," Sindhu said. "This piece is very, very important. OpenFlow is one possible proposal for this being the open standard interface ... an early proposal for the open protocol between the controller and the network."

OpenFlow 1.0 is on Juniper's MX routers and EX switches today. OpenFlow 1.3 will be on the MX, EX and QFabric QFX lines next year. Juniper also plans to add production-ready path computation and real-time topology tools, like BGP-Traffic Engineering and Application Layer Traffic Optimization, to its systems next year (see graphic).

Having multiple controllers deployed and interacting through "east/west" interfaces is also key to scaling an SDN, Sindhu notes. And the northbound interface from the network to the orchestration systems is vital for synchronizing network operations with those of compute and storage resources also resident in the data center, he said.

Juniper pledges that its northbound and southbound interfaces, whether or not OpenFlow is employed, will be open.

"The incumbent has already placed or made statements about what it intends to do with ... SDN and the fact that it has the intention to control the standard," Sindhu said, referring to Cisco. "Juniper has no intent to control the standard. What we want to do is we want to see open standards develop. We don't want to do standards plus. We want to have open standard, and we want to exploit the fact that we have a single operating system which will make it a lot easier for us to do things."

Juniper's claims its SDN strategy is consistent with the direction it's pursued since 2009.

Three years ago, Juniper announced its New Network initiative built around three goals: innovation, automation and optimization to reduce cost.

"You roll forward to 2012 and you ask the question about what are the goals of SDN? It turns out that the goals are exactly the same, completely identical," Sindhu said.

"We see SDN as a very, very strong opportunity. It's not a threat."

Jim Duffy has been covering technology for over 25 years, 21 at Network World. He also writes The Cisco Connection blog and can be reached on Twitter @Jim_Duffy.

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

This story, "Juniper confines SDNs to data center" was originally published by NetworkWorld.

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