Juniper stresses simplicity in new data centre architecture

Simplicity is a goal of nature, cooks and military strategists and network architects. However, due to an increasing number of devices and technologies it’s been tough to design simple networks.

Juniper Networks thinks the answer is to build around a series of products it has been rolling out since January and will culminate with the release of its EX 8200 Terabit data centre Ethernet switch early next year.

The company today released a design for what it calls “data centre nirvana” that envisions consolidating a number of devices and removing an aggregation layer, which will result in faster application and service deployment as well as cost savings in power.

“Many networks” will be able to create a two-tier architecture with this design, Bobby Guhasarkar, a senior product marketing manager for Juniper’s Ethernet platforms, said in an interview. Viswesh Ananthakrishnan, the company’s director of data centre solutions, said the design can reduce application latency “by an order of magnitude.”

The design calls for network managers to use Juniper’s EX 4200 stackable switch introduced in February, its MX-series Ethernet routers and the SRX gateway that includes a variety of security services revealed in September. But an essential element will be the EX 8200, which is due sometime in the first quarter of next year.

It’s a strategy that two industry analysts say makes sense for conservative organizations. However, one cautions that the vision doesn’t address emerging technologies such as unified fabric pushed by competitors such as Cisco Systems. ]

The problem network managers face, said Guhasarkar, is that larger data centres can have up to six tiers, including access, aggregation, WAN, Internet and services, with hundreds of devices on the network.

Gartner estimates over half of the links in a data centre are use for interconnects rather than connecting servers and storage, he said. It doesn’t help, he added, that some routers, switches and security devices have separate operating systems.

Juniper says it can simplify networks in several ways:

First, by using the virtual chassis technology in its EX 4200 as a top of rack switch, it can aggregate up to 10 switches as a single logical device. Ten of these can be chained, so up to 480 ports can be put into one virtual chassis.

Second, the coming EX 8200 can get rid of the aggregation later by connecting access switches at line rate speed. Guhasarkar said a data centre could go up to 4,000 ports before needing a third tier.

Finally, using the SRX 8500, security services can be consolidated onto one platform. All of these products use one operating system, Juniper’s Junos, which further helps to simplify things, he added. Some organizations have separate networks in the data centre, for a particular application, a department or for security. Using the MX series routers with MPLS, Juniper can provider that separation virtually.

Juniper claims this architecture can save substantial sums in both big and small data centers. A new 3,000-server environment built Juniper’s way would have a list price cost of US$4.6 million, compared to US9.6 million if built with Cisco Systems equipment, plus use one-third less power. “Once you get beyond a handful of switches, you start to see the savings,” added Andy Ingram, the company’s vice-president of marketing.

Of course, not all vendors sell list price.

Mark Fabbi, vice-president and distinguished enterprise communications analyst at Gartner said simplicity in data centre design is a good goal. However, he was quick to note that the EX 8200 isn’t shipping now, so to get to Juniper’s vision now means using the MX series gear. Only when EX 8200 is released will Juniper have the level of density in the core and the flexibility with the EX 4200 to start collapsing layers.

More importantly, he calls this a “short term” vision. “What they haven’t talked about is how to consolidate storage, how to consolidate I/O in the rack, all the things the rest of the industry is starting to talk about.”

Robert Whiteley, principal analyst and research director of Forrester Research’s IT infrastructure and operations practice, said that with the release of the first EX switch, a number of organizations are more interested in using non-Cisco products in their core. With the EX 8200 coming out, “it’s a well-timed argument to change with way you architect the network.”

Cisco, through its new Nexus family of core switches, and Foundry Networks have a different view of the future, he added, one that sees unified fabric – collapsing storage and Ethernet onto one backbone. For some, Whiteley said, that’s radical. Juniper’s approach, he suggested, “is a more natural extension of how you build core networks.”

So looking ahead organizations face building what he called “an unproven unified core” or continuing to build in a way they’re familiar with. “I think a lot of progressive companies that see technology as a way of getting ahead are going to want to do unified fabric,” Whiteley said.

“I think a lot of companies that are conservative and mainstream are going to say ‘I like the Juniper vision. It’s less disruptive to my skill set and the way I build and operate my network.”

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