Probably more significant than the fact that Juniper Networks last week launched a new range of high performance Ethernet switches, the EX-series, is what this means for the company's future direction.
The jewel in Juniper's crown is actually software—primarily its JUNOS network operating system—and it is JUNOS which holds the potential long-term attraction for enterprises. The company has spotted a major opportunity while also recognising it has a challenge based on how it has, until now, been perceived in the marketplace.
The challenge is first that the company has never before focused directly on large enterprises but instead primarily on service providers (SPs) and telcos, and selling via resellers. Secondly, this is also its first venture into Ethernet switches; even though it had money to spare in the bank—and has just posted $2.84bn 2007 turnover, up 25%, with increased profits—Juniper took a conscious decision to build its own range rather than buy a switch company.
The potential is related to where enterprises are going. According to Juniper CEO Scott Kriens, "Speed is the new currency [for enterprises]" and few would argue with his assessment that networks that underpin every large enterprise need not only to be fast, but also reliable and secure.
By going into high performance Ethernet switches, Juniper is acknowledging the increasing criticality of high speed internet access to people working in every aspect of business across the enterprise. This is true centrally, remotely and across mobile and wireless connections, and the underpinning transmission and protocol is Ethernet with TCP/IP. This is the enterprise's "high performance DNA" according to Kriens, and it is growing fast.
True to its well-respected networking pedigree, Juniper's Ex-series should blow the performance socks off the competition (assuming it can match orders from its new production line), also beating like-for-like capacity switches in terms of space, heat and power utilisation, for now anyway (see my overview of switch specifications at the end of this article).
However, a set of impressive switches will not, on its own, establish Juniper as a major force in large enterprises rather than a respected network equipment provider. What does potentially change the game is how it is developing JUNOS.
First, the same JUNOS code is used to drive all its network equipment, routers, gateways, switches and so on; it was designed from the ground up to do this and is thoroughly tried and tested in the field. In a predominantly Juniper network environment, regular scheduled JUNOS version releases are easy and less disruptive for an enterprise to deploy than a competitive mishmash of device drivers, while its flexible design allows it to be upgraded to drive all kinds of new equipment as they appear.
But the most important factor for enterprises is that Juniper's strategic partner companies, especially those who provide network management software, are now being allowed direct access to JUNOS through its software developer kit (SDK).
This is not only so that they can write a single interface to JUNOS and then be able to discover every piece of Juniper equipment out on the network; it is also that, for instance, management security and compliance policies, or service level agreement (SLA) criteria, can, by this means, be applied right down to individual network devices.
This is potentially a huge deal because applying such policies is ceasing to be an option, so demand should rapidly increase. This alone makes JUNOS very attractive. Then, as JUNOS enters the enterprise mainstream, it will in turn tend to suck in sales of more Juniper hardware alongside other vendors' network equipment—as long as it runs on JUNOS.
A common network operating system across the enterprise network infrastructure will also reduce training, maintenance and management costs and increase network stability. Unified management also facilitates faster deployment of network innovation.
At its launch last week, three of the industry's software heavyweights—IBM, Oracle and Microsoft—were happy to share the stage with Juniper. Others such as CA and HP have also worked closely with Juniper, and all have every reason to take advantage of the JUNOS capabilities for mutual benefit.
The EX-series switches are impressive, scalable from very small to beyond anything yet available from competitors, and so have raised the bar. But the really big deal for enterprises longer term is JUNOS.EX-series Ethernet switches range (March availability expected)
EX 3200 and EX 4200 regional and corporate office switches; 24- and 48-port with simple plug-and-play 10/100/1000BASE-T connectivity; optional four-port GbE and two-port 10GbE uplink modules with pluggable optics to support high-speed connections to other switches or upstream devices such as routers; full and partial Power over Ethernet (PoE) options to support IP-enabled devices such as telephones, security cameras and WLAN access points in converged network environments; high availability features including redundant, hot-swappable internal power supplies and field-replaceable multi-blower fan trays.
EX 4200 only: up to 10 EX 4200 series switches can be interconnected over a 128 Gigabit-per-second (Gbps) backplane using virtual chassis technology, creating a single virtual switch of up to 480 ports and up to 40 GbE or 20 10GbE uplink ports.
EX 8200: high performance and high-density 10GbE enterprise core and aggregation deployments; comes as an 8-slotx1.6 Terabit (Tb) or 16-slot 3.2 Tb chassis supporting 64 or 128 10GbE ports; two 16-slot switches fit one 42U rack giving 256 wire-speed 10GbE ports per rack; includes enterprise-class routing tables and deep hardware-based packet buffers.