Juniper joins Lucent on MPLS

Juniper Networks Inc. and Lucent Technologies Inc. say they are teaming up to make network convergence easier for service providers, but industry observers give the joint venture mixed reviews.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Juniper, which makes routers, and Lucent, a Murray Hill, N.J.-based manufacturer of Frame Relay, Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) and voice equipment, in May announced plans to work together. Their goal: to port service providers from disparate, hard-to-manage networks over to single, easier-to-handle networks based on Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) technology.

“If you look at many of the networks that have been built up, they tend to have silos of services,” explained Scott Hilton, vice-president of product management for Lucent’s multiservice switching business. “There’ll be a whole network devoted to each service, Frame/ATM, IP, metro…and voice. Convergence allows [carriers] to consolidate and optimize the use of the core bandwidth across multiple services.”

But it’s a complicated process, switching from a multi-pronged network architecture to a single platform. Juniper and Lucent together mean to address this difficulty, said Paula Reinman, director of corporate marketing with Juniper.

“Service providers know that they need to move to a converged, MPLS type of network, to reduce costs and drive revenue….To date, service providers have had to make this bridge, this transition, on their own. It’s been up to them to figure out what the solutions are, how the interoperability works, how the ongoing management is going to work. This relationship builds that bridge.”

The relationship brings together Juniper’s experience with IP/MPLS technology and Lucent’s Frame/ATM and voice expertise, the vendors said. To make provisioning and architecture less arduous for carriers, Lucent also offers up its Navis network operations software, which henceforth will work with Juniper’s routers; and Lucent’s Worldwide Services arm will support the joint venture with network design, deployment and maintenance services for customers.

The companies have products in mind: they’ve created an IP Centrex solution that they say features a virtual router architecture, which cuts down on the number of physical routers required to support a carrier’s clients. As well, the firms created an IP Virtual Private Network (VPN) platform that allows service providers to offer secure connections over wide area links.

Juniper and Lucent also have a Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) platform, and down the road the companies plan to roll out a full service MPLS backbone, to help carriers get to that hallowed state of convergence, as well as an optical edge solution, which is supposed to make installed metro infrastructure more Ethernet-friendly.

Rosalyn Roseboro, an analyst with San Francisco-based RHK Inc., said the relationship is a win-win for Juniper and Lucent.

“It allows both companies to add to their addressable market without the time and expense of developing solutions in-house,” she told Network World Canada.

However, the endeavour also faces certain challenges, such as “channel conflict from Juniper’s existing partners,” Roseboro said, pointing out that Siemens AG already provides systems integration and support for Juniper; Lucent may well be stepping on Siemens’ toes here.

Reinman from Juniper, however, said the firm is not concerned about overlaps.

“We have a strong relationship with Siemens, a strong relationship with Ericsson. Our goal is to work with each one of our partners, to help them bring the best solutions to market that they can. These companies – Lucent, Siemens, Ericsson – have all been in the market, differentiating from each other, for years, before we came around.”

Kelvin Shepherd, chief technology officer (CTO) with MTS Communications Inc., a service provider in Winnipeg, said Juniper and Lucent’s new-found friendship could help some carriers, particularly “a small or medium-sized service provider, one that perhaps does not want to spend the internal time and engineering resources to try to integrate the technologies.”

MTS Communications in 2002 purchased equipment from Cisco Systems Inc. and Nortel Networks to build a Manitoba-wide MPLS-VPN network.

Shepherd wondered if the Juniper-Lucent partnership is more a matter of necessity than anything else. “You’ve got a fairly large vendor, Lucent, trying to fill gaps in their product portfolio. For them, it makes sense.”

Lucent’s Hilton agreed. “Lucent was not in a position to make the investments, nor could they deliver the time-to-market to bring a full-blown IP/MPLS solution in. Juniper was not in a position to bring all the ATM, Frame and voice. But together, we can bring the solutions that customers are asking for right now, while not having to do a tremendous amount of investment on each side.”

Still, Shepherd from MTS said, given the choice between a single gear-maker offering similar products and this Juniper-Lucent alliance, many service providers would choose the former. After all, with Juniper and Lucent “you’re now committed, if you buy the story, to…a loose product marketing relationship. It’s not as compelling as a vendor that can provide the end-to-end story and control it.”

But Reinman from Juniper said, “This is more than a typical reseller agreement.”

“The relationship involves joint solution development, selling customer solutions that are reliant on integrated network operations system development. It’s a long-term partnership. Our carrier customers are in long-term relationships. They need something they know they can put in their network and it’s going to be in there and supported for years to come.”