Juniper jumps in with high performance switches

NEW YORK — Juniper Networks has jumped into the Ethernet switching market with a series of products it says set new benchmarks for high-performance enterprise networks.

With the move it directly confronts Cisco Systems, the leader in the switch market. However, Juniper believes it has at least one trump card. Its EX switches will run on the same JUNOS operating system used in its routers, which the company says means network managers can take advantage of a uniform set of features, consistent implementation and universal configuration and management tools.

It also stressed that the unified JUNOS still retains its quarterly upgrade train, unlike some competitors, who it says upgrade switch and router software on different schedules.

Until now Juniper has concentrated on routers and security appliances for enterprises and carriers. Asked in an interview how big a bet he is making adding switches to his lineup, company CEO Scott Kreins hesitated.

“It just seems so obvious its what’s needed,” he finally said, “what customers have insisted.”

Juniper says the new line, which includes network access control, can offer significant power and space savings over competing products.

Some models feature what it calls a Virtual-Chassis design, meaning the switches can be interconnected across a distance of up to 40 kilometers via a 128 Gigabit per second backplane and seen through management software as one device.

Displayed here before a conference of international press and industry analysts were three models.

The EX 3200 standalone series are fixed-configuration switches for branches with either 24 or 48 ports and 10/100/1000Base-T connectivity. With a list price starting at US$4,000, full or partial Power-over-Ethernet options are available for IP-enabled devices. Optional four-port GbE and two-port 10GbE uplink modules are available as well.

The EX 4200 stackable switch for branch offices offer identical features as the 3200, plus a 24-port fibre switch with 100/1000Base-X support. Priced starting at $US6,000, they also include redundant hot-swapable internal power supplies and replaceable multi-blower fan trays.

The 3200 and 4200 will be available next month.

The EX 8200 modular Terabit switch series for data centres is aimed at high density 10GbE enterprise cores and aggregation deployments. Available in the second half of the year, they will come in two versions: an eight-slot 1.6 Tb chassis with 64 ports and a 16-slot 3.2 Tb chassis with 128 ports.

Juniper’s announcement came a day after Cisco Systems announced its new Nexus series switches in a strategy that some industry analysts see as a bid to take control of the data centre and confront traditional manufacturers in the heart of the core such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems.

Perhaps significantly, Kreins invited IBM, Oracle and Microsoft officials to share the stage with him here to make the point that Juniper’s strategy includes working with, and not against, its partners.

Analyst Zeus Kerravala of the Yankee Group believes that Monday’s Cisco announcement puts a strain on that company’s partnership with IBM, one that Juniper may be able to exploit if it plays its cards right.

However, he was also disappointed with other parts of the message Juniper executives put out here, calling it “basic.” Every switch vendor says their products are fast, secure and reliable, he explained.

Being able to use JUNOS for both switches and routers is interesting, he said, but the company failed today to show qualitatively it would improve network efficiency beyond the obvious — not having to train staff on a new application.

“I don’t think they made the argument strongly enough that their OS is better than Cisco’s OS,” he said.

The EX line is more of a challenge to products from switch makers Foundry Networks and Extreme Networks than Cisco, Kerravala believes, because buyers of those products have already shown a willingness to buy from other than the market leader.

Just as important to him is that there are still significant holes in Juniper’s line, such as the lack of a wireless LAN and their own VoIP solution.

Steven Schuchart of Current Analysis, on the other hand, said the three members of the EX line gives Juniper “all the essential pieces” in switches, but acknowleged they are not as comprehensive as Cisco’s portfolio. But, he added, it is Juniper’s first foray into this market.

He also sees the EX line as on par with switches from Foundry and Extreme, meaning buyers will have to evaluate the products feature by feature.

“Juniper is going to have to prove to customers its in it [switching] for the long haul and can achieve everything they promise.”

The EX line will be sold through Juniper’s channel partners. One of them here, Phillip O’Reilly, CEO of Solunet, a Melbourne, Fla., service and solution provider with offices in Toronto and Calgary, said Juniper’s move into switches was “long overdue.” Buyers want an integrated solution — routers and switches from the same manufacturer — which until the EX came along Solunet wasn’t able to offer.

His company has had only limited success selling Foundry switches to enterprises, he said.

“We now have a pretty strong play in this space.”

“This is going to be a big gamble for us,” he said of the EX lined, but the ability to sell the customer an end-to-end solution, a common OS and common management platform “is going to be a huge advantage.”

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