Juniper sees datacenter opportunity despite poor economy

Juniper is looking to expand its enterprise business by making an aggressive push into the datacenter with a 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch and long-term development projects

A sluggish economy is a perfect time for slugging it out in the datacenter.

That seemed to be Juniper Networks' rally cry at its annual analyst conference last week as the company launched an aggressive campaign to expand its enterprise business with a targeted assault on the datacenter. Juniper disclosed that it is working with partners on a multiyear project to develop a converged switching fabric for the datacenter; and unveiled a top-of-rack 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch optimized for low latency server access.

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The developments come against a backdrop of a sputtering worldwide economy in which overall IT spending is expected to drop by as much as 15 percent from last year, according to Juniper CEO Kevin Johnson. Johnson would not speculate on when he expects spending to pick back up, but did say that the malaise, as well as current trends in enterprise networking, play to Juniper's strengths.

Customer requirements for "centralized" computing architectures in which resources are physically housed in datacenters and dispersed to remote locations through cloud computing and virtualization demand the "pure play high performance networking" that Juniper espouses, Johnson said. Juniper claims it can lower network operations costs in the datacenter by 41 percent and power consumption by 44 percent over incumbent systems.

Juniper's datacenter introductions are also a direct hit on Cisco's ambitions in this market. Cisco -- like Juniper -- is looking to make the network a centerpiece of next-generation datacenter architectures. But Cisco is also branching off into the compute space, dominated by longtime partners IBM and HP, with a blade server offering of its own.

Cisco's California blade server, expected in the first half of this year, could strain the company's relationships with IBM and HP. Juniper, meanwhile, stressed that it intends to eagerly partner with datacenter compute, storage, and software vendors to accelerate its ambitions.

"We are going to partner for success in the datacenter," said Juniper Founder and CTO Pradeep Sindhu at last week's analyst conference.

Sindhu added that the datacenter needs three advances: a purpose built, high-performance network; tighter coupling between compute, storage, and service elements and the network; and a single management system for policies and virtualization.

"These will not be brought to you by vendors with 70 percent market share with no interest in upsetting the status quo," he said, in a thinly veiled reference to Cisco.

With that, Juniper unveiled its Stratus Project, a multiyear effort to develop a converged datacenter fabric with server, storage, and software partners. Stratus is a year old and comprises six elements: a datacenter manager, storage, compute, Layer 4-7 switching, appliances, and networking.

Stratus is intended to be a flat, non-blocking, lossless fabric supporting tens of thousands of Gigabit Ethernet ports, an order of magnitude reduction in latency, no single point of failure, and with security tightly integrated and virtualized. Stratus is expected to support the Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE) datacenter fabric specifications being defined and endorsed by several vendors.

Stratus will be managed like a large JUNOS-based switch, said David Yen, Juniper executive vice president of the datacenter business group.

Stratus is designed to relieve datacenter scaling "pain" because of latency, power, space, cost, and complexity, Yen said. It is also intended to support datacenter virtualization for "elasticity and efficiency," Yen said.

Yen would not provide details into Stratus products, configurations, pricing, or availability. He indicated, though, that it will not have a material impact on Juniper's 2009 revenue.

Juniper is announcing Stratus now to allow customers to plan their long-term datacenter migration strategies, Yen said.

"Stratus extends Juniper's high-performance networking core competencies into the datacenter," Yen said. "It allows Juniper to enter a new addressable market space. We have no vested interest in prolonging suboptimal legacy architectures. We are in a unique position to revolutionize the datacenter."

"With one stroke, Juniper is devaluing Cisco's incumbency," says Tom Nolle, president of consultancy CIMI. "They are positioning away from current technologies [like Fibre Channel and Infiniband] that have no accommodation to the fabric as a network backplane, or as the basis for future virtualization support.

"Cisco has a lot of collisions with incumbents," Nolle adds, referring to the California blade server's anticipated impact on Cisco's relationships with IBM and HP. "Juniper cannot hope to match Cisco in breadth so it is making that an asset instead of a liability. Juniper is timing its success with Stratus to the economy's recovery and to developing symbioses with partners."

Other analysts wanted more meat to it.

"It was long on vision and short on details," said Zeus Kerravala of the Yankee Group. "They threw this vision out there with no kind of road map on how to get there. With the installed base of Fibre Channel and Infiniband, there's a staged approach that they're going to have to go through to get there."

But they did lay out some new datacenter products. Juniper unveiled a top-of-rack datacenter switch targeted at high-density 10G Ethernet deployments.

The EX2500 provides server access with 24 10G Ethernet SFP+ ports and 700-nanosecond latency. The fixed configuration switches support 480Gbps full duplex throughput in a 1 RU footprint. All ports are non-blocking, Juniper says.

The EX2500 will go up against Cisco's Nexus 5000, Woven Systems' TRX 200, Arista's 7124S, HP ProCurve's 6600 24-VG, BLADE Network Technologies' G8100, Force10's S2410, and Extreme's Summit X650.

The EX2500 supports both back-to-front and front-to-back cooling to accommodate server designs for hot- and cold-aisle layouts. This allows network ports to have closer proximity to server ports and keep cable lengths short and manageable, Juniper says.

The EX2500 has redundant power and fans. Power supplies are load sharing and fans are variable-speed, Juniper says. The variable speed fans will automatically adjust speed under variant conditions to reduce power consumption, the company says.

The EX2500 will be available in the second quarter starting at $18,000.

The datacenter initiatives are part of an attempt by Juniper to further hone its enterprise strategy as it seeks to deepen its penetration into that market. The company is winning some enterprise converts -- 30 to 40 percent of its EX LAN switch base are first time Juniper customers, Johnson said -- and it has tallied $33 million in EX switch revenue since unveiling the products a year ago.

And sales to the enterprise market now account for 31 percent of Juniper's revenue.

Still, "our enterprise side is not as surgically focused as we need it to be," Johnson said. Juniper officials at the analyst conference said the cost of sale to the enterprise is high; and that sales and marketing need to be better connected.

Johnson says the company must maintain its concentration on high-performance networking infrastructure while relying on partnerships for applications -- such as unified communications, visual conferencing, and others -- that it supports.

"Customers want choice and flexibility," Johnson said. "IT deserves to be in control of their destiny."

Network World is an InfoWorld affiliate.

This story, "Juniper sees datacenter opportunity despite poor economy" was originally published by NetworkWorld.

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