Juniper vows to ‘revolutionize’ data centre networks

Two years after promising a strategy to overhaul data centre networks, Juniper Networks Inc. is about to start delivering the hardware that will make it possible.

Originally called Project Stratus, the equipment and software is now dubbed the QFabric architecture, which the company said Wednesday will “revolutionize the data centre” by cutting the number of network layers from three to one and boosting performance by up to 10 times.

“Three layers may be appropriate for club sandwiches and wedding cakes,” said Juniper CEO Kevin Johnson, “but three layers is not appropriate for data centres.”

Company executives didn’t hold back on what they believe the impact of a data centre designed around the new architecture.

 “We believe QFabric will improve the performance on the fastest computers by 100 times over the next five years,” claimed chief technology officer Pradeep Sindhu.

That could mean everything from “harnessing of [nuclear] fusion to produce unlimited energy,” he said, to a “dramatic acceleration of the rate of innovation.”

However, network managers eager to start on this trip will have to wait a few months: Juniper will only introduce the first product, theQFX3500 top of rack 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch, shortly. Other components are coming in the third quarter.

For now, the QFX3500 can be used to chop a three-tier network to two-tiers, company officials said.

Meanwhile fully-equipped QFabric data centres are still in customer trials.

Pricing was not announced, but the company said the QFX3500 will be competitive with Cisco System Inc.’s Nexus 5548 switch.

To take full advantage of QFabric, mangers will have to dedicate either an entire data centre to its Juniper’s new devices. More likely, they slowly start to integrate QFabic when building a new pod of servers.

This vision of a collapsed data centre network is one that most network equipment manufacturers are honing, with FabricPath from Cisco System Inc., Virtual Enterprise Network Architecture (VENA) from Avaya Inc. and Brocade One from Brocade Communications Systems.

However, Zeus Kerravala, senior vice-president of research at the Yankee Group, says Juniper’s strategy is a more radical leap than others.

“It really is one big flat network,” he said in an interview. “The main challenge for Juniper,” Kerravala added, “will be to get customers to think about their network differently.”

Andre Kindness, an enterprise networking analyst at Forrester Research, is also impressed by the Juniper strategy, saying the company made a strong case. The promised five to 10 milisecond latency is “incredible,” he said. Juniper’s simplified network scheme contrasts with those of some of its competitors, he added.

However, he cautions Juniper still has to deliver more hardware and software pieces.

“If you’re looking to do a data centre refresh or move to the cloud within a year or two I’d add it to a list of vendors to hear from.”

Virtualization and cloud computing is driving this overhaul. Networks have to be upgraded to handle all of the virtual traffic servers are churning out, and the traditional three-layer network design causes too much latency.

In essence, Juniper’s Johnson said, each level slows traffic down as switches have to process packets of data for their destinations and paths, then transport them forward.

QFabric’s architecture creates one network layer so data can be processed once. Among the advantages is an organization can enforce a single security policy across a physical and virtual networks. It can also easily scale up to handle thousands of servers, the company said, while keeping capital expenses in control.

QFabric is not just for huge data centres, executives added, saying the architecture could bump performance of a 500 server/1,000 port data centre by up to six times.

However, the architecture can’t be used to connect cloud data centres across a wide area network.

As to how Juniper does it, essentially Juniper disassembled the traditional chassis switch, which has Ethernet access line cards with ports on one side and fabric cards on the other. In the QFabric architecture, line cards go into top of rack devices Juniper will call Nodes (an example of which is the QFX3500), and what were fabric cards end up in a chassis called an Interconnect, which transports traffic across the data centre. The advantage is the Interconnects have greater port densities than traditional switches. Together with a Director, a management appliance that leverages the JUNOS operating system, they make a single switch.

David Yen, executive vice-president of Juniper’s switching division, showed several pre-production models as examples of what’s coming in the fall:

–a 2U-sized Director with unnamed x86 processors, that links to Nodes and Directors (the model shown had a Gigabit Ethernet port);

–an Interconnect chassis that supports 128 QSFP connections running at wire speeds. With eight fabric cards can provider 10 terabits per second throughput, Yen said.

– the 1U-sized QFX3500 Node, that provides 48 SPF+ (10 GbE) and SPF (GbE) ports. Twelve of those ports can link directly to FibreChannel interfaces. There are also four QSFP 40 Gbps uplinks.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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