Juniper bets big on a flat network

QFabric aims to eliminate redundancy and latency by replacing three networking layers with one

Juniper unveiled today a bold new vision for networking architecture dubbed QFabric, through which data packets are always just one short hop away from their final destination.

The QFabric blueprint envisions the flattening of today's three-layer networking architecture, in which packets travel down one path of specific switches to a central switch that, in turn, routes the data up another path of specific switches to its final destination. That approach, the company argues, promotes redundancy, lags, and data loss.

Living on the edge
The QFabric architecture comprises only intelligent switches residing on the network edge. If a server on one side of the data center needs to communicate with a server on the other side, the exchange is handled by just one switch.

The architecture leverages Juniper's Virtual Chassis fabric technology to eliminate the need for aggregation, according to the company, which can reduce the number of switch interactions by up to 99 percent and latency by up to 77 percent compared to three-layer networks.

Additionally, the architecture would free up valuable data center floor space by 90 percent, according to Juniper, as far fewer pieces of networking hardware would be necessary. That, in turn, results in a 77 percent decrease in costly energy consumption.

Rip and replace vs. the Cisco trap
Three years in the making and with a price tag of $1 million in research and development, the QFabric architecture certainly is an interesting one. And it may be daunting at first blush to the average data center manager because fully adopting it would entail ripping and replacing one's existing network infrastructure.

David Yen, general manager of Juniper's switching business, said that he would not expect data center managers to adopt a QFabric architecture overnight, or even necessarily in the course of a year. Rather, it would be a gradual process: As a company replaces a cluster of servers with newer, more efficient models, it could also replace existing networking gear with hardware that can function both as a traditional switch and a QFabric switch.

Not surprisingly, Yen said that Juniper's QFabric, with its long-term rip-and-replace requirements, is superior to what Cisco has to offer with its unified networking fabric in that Cisco's model still requires customers to continue adding more boxes as networking requirements increase. "Cisco's approach is not going to be effective," he said."Customers counting on it will get into a deeper and deeper trap, and it will be much more difficult for them to get out of it."

Part of Juniper's announcement, in fact, included the release of the QFX3500, which is capable of operating as a stand-alone 64-port 10Gigabit Ethernet switch with FCoE and Fiber Channel gateway functionality. Additional hardware that will support the QFabric architecture is forthcoming in Q3.

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