Juniper Sees Data Center Opportunity Despite Poor Economy

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

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

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 data center. Juniper disclosed that it is working with partners on a multiyear project to develop a converged switching fabric for the data center; and unveiled a top-of-rack 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch optimized for low latency server access.

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% 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 data centers 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 data center by 41%; and power consumption by 44% over incumbent systems.

Juniper's data center 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 data center 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 data center compute, storage and software vendors to accelerate its ambitions.

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

Sindhu added that the data center 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% 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 data center fabric with server, storage and software partners. Stratus is a year old and comprised of six elements: a data center 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) data center 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 data center business group.

Stratus is designed to relieve data center scaling "pain" because of latency, power, space, cost and complexity, Yen said. It is also intended to support data center 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 data center migration strategies, Yen said.

"Stratus extends Juniper's high performance networking core competencies into the data center," 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 data center."

"With one stroke, Juniper is devaluing Cisco's incumbency," says Tom Nolle, president of consultancy CIMI Corp. "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 data center products. Juniper unveiled a top of rack data center 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 US$18,000.

The data center 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% 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% 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."

This story, "Juniper Sees Data Center Opportunity Despite Poor Economy" was originally published by Network World.

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