Juniper Networks has at last thrown its hat into the Ethernet switching ring with a family of edge, core, and data centre devices with which to challenge market leader Cisco's dominance of the space.
The launch of what the Sunnyvale, California-based networking vendor calls its EX-series took place at a high-profile Global Enterprise Event held in New York yesterday, and effectively represents Juniper's third attempt at establishing a presence in the enterprise market to equal its success in the carrier market where it is the number-two router provider behind Cisco.
The first try was with its J-series routers, which have been distinctly underwhelming in their performance, with the bulk of its router revenue still coming from service providers. The second was the $4bn acquisition of security vendor NetScreen, which made a name for itself pioneering firewall appliances and remains a respectable business, but has not put Juniper on equal footing with Cisco in the enterprise market.
More recently it splashed out on two companies in the emerging optimisation/acceleration market: Peribit for its Layer-2 to Layer-4 capabilities and Redline for Layer 7. This was an interesting play, but that market is still relatively small, worth perhaps $500 000 a year in total, and not the vast space Juniper is now targeting with switches.
The differentiators Juniper is highlighting with the EX launch are predictable enough for anyone who has been following developments in the networking market of late. It starts with the fact that the family runs on the same JunOS operating system that powers all its routers, whereas 'legacy enterprise switch architectures are often inundated by multiple, inconsistent versions of network operating systems, resulting in unpredictable performance as new features are enabled on the network'.
The allusion here is to Cisco, which has two formal flavors of its flagship IOS operating system: vanilla IOS on the enterprise boxes and the modular IOS XR on the carrier devices, with multiple different versions proliferating within single accounts, a scenario that has developed as companies' switch infrastructure has grown.
In addition, Cisco has also launched a new, high-end switch for the data centre this week, running yet a third OS called Nexus.
Then there is what Juniper calls its carrier-class reliability, the company having integrated its flavor of network access control technology, called Unified Access Control onto the switches.
The edge device in the family, the EX 3200, comprises two fixed-configuration standalone switches for 'low-density regional and corporate office deployments'. The two flavors are 24-port and 48-port versions with 10/100/1000 connectivity, offering full and partial Power over Ethernet versions to support IP phones, wireless APs, and the like.
In terms of uplinks, they are available with two-port 10 Gb and four-port GbE modules using pluggable optics, and both the power supply and fan tray are field-replaceable, though not redundant.
List prices start at $4000.
Next up the range is the EX 4300, which features what Juniper is calling its Virtual Chassis technology, combining 'the reliability, scalability and ease of management of [chassis-based] modular systems with the flexibility of stackable platforms'. The target market here is data centre, corporate, and regional office environments.
Again, there are 24-port and 48-port versions and the same PoE and uplink options as the EX 3200.
The Virtual Chassis technology is Juniper's name for its stacking, which is hardware-based, requiring a dedicated 128 Gbps backplane to create a virtual switch of up to 480 ports and up to 40 GbE or 20 10 Gb uplinks. Given its target market, the 4200 series does offer high-availability features like redundant, hot-swappable internal power supplies. The list price starts at $6000.
Finally there is the high-end core device, called the EX 8200, available in an 8-slot, 1,7 Tbps chassis version, and a 16-slot, 3,2 Tbps one. The former offers 64 ports of 10 Gb connectivity, the latter 128. These are devices for 'high-density 10GbE enterprise core and aggregation deployments' with list price information lacking until they actually become available in the second half of this year.
The switching silicon for these devices is strongly rumoured to be provided by Marvell, while their flow generation capabilities, providing information in the company's JFlow format which is its flavor of sFlow, are provided by a proprietary ASIC called the Hurricane.
Juniper has been rumoured to be on the cusp of entering the switch market for years. There are said to have been M&A; talks a few years with Foundry, whose CEO Bobby Johnson apparently did not want to sell. Now the company that successfully challenged Cisco and ate into its market share in carrier routing has finally bitten the bullet and developed its own Ethernet switch line.
Not surprisingly, it has built the UAC technology into the EX-series, though there is an irony here, in that it spent the last couple of years deriding Cisco's NAC Framework, which posited the use of the [Cisco] switches as the enforcement point, which would appear to be what Juniper is now doing with its boxes. Until now it could always describe UAC as a security overlay based on its firewalls.
Still, by building NAC functionality into the switches, it allows Juniper to talk about secure switching, which is where NAC does appear to be headed.
It is also interesting to note that last month Juniper announced plans to open up JunOS to development partners so that they could write apps to run directly on its routers. One wonders whether, with the EX-series also running the OS, that might not now extend to the switches too. Certainly many of the networking vendors these days are talking about opening up to some degree to accommodate third-party apps.
The bigger question here, however, is whether Juniper has any hope of making inroads into a market dominated, to the tune of 70%+ share, by Cisco. The number-two player, HP ProCurve, has just 6% worldwide, with 3Com at 3%. That means a bevy of other players, like Nortel, Alcatel-Lucent, Foundry, and Extreme are all in the sub-3% range, and will not be sacrificing their meagre shares to what is tantamount to an upstart in this area of the market.
Presumably the rationale will be initially to target existing Juniper customers in the routing and security markets, offering them sweet deals that bundle in the switches for a more complete Juniper estate, and growing the vendor's presence in the overall account.